Walking from the parking lot of Dos Pueblos High School to the gym, there are campers and cars filled with personal belongings. It’s Friday, but there are no high school students around today, yet there are more than 200 people in the school’s gym.
Green cots with blankets stand in tidy rows like army barracks. Teddy bears wearing State Farm Insurance T-shirts mark the beds where children sleep. The trophy case at the entrance has volunteers in front of it handing out food and sprawled about the pop-up tables are banners from the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.
It’s lunchtime, but rather than cafeteria food and pizza in the hands of adolescents, there are Styrofoam take-out boxes that have been provided from various area restaurants to feed the unlucky inhabitants of the gym. To feed people who have been evacuated from their homes because of the Jesusita Fire.
“I said ‘I’m not going to be evacuated,’ but they told me I had to be,” said Evelyn Wilson, a Santa Barabara resident in a self-sufficient senior apartment complex on La Cumbre. She had been at Dos Pueblos for three days.
The Dos Pueblos evacuee camp was setup May 6, the day after the Jesusita Fire broke out in the Cathedral Peak area. The camp stayed open until noon Sunday, with those still in need of shelter transferred to UCSB’s MAC camp.
“Morale is pretty good,” said Susan Forkush, the press liaison for the American Red Cross based at Dos Pueblos High. “People are pulling together and helping out from the community. Some [evacuated] people are out shopping some are at work trying to go on with normal lives.”
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the evacuees at Dos Pueblos were in high spirits; some were even grateful for the rediscovered priorities the fire brought along with the devastation.
“[The fire] forces people to think about what is really important,” said Dr. John Christopher Yanek, a retired priest and evacuee at Dos Pueblos. “Is the house more important than the person inside? No. It makes people do some deep thinking, and praying too. But it gives them courage to become a better person.” Yanek went on to compliment the firefighters, Red Cross, and other services that helped the evacuees in their time of need. “Some are down spirited, but [the people volunteering here] gave them a renewed sense of hope, from the fellowship and the warm welcome.”
Part of that welcome was taking place outside the gym where a Verizon tent was crowded with evacuees. Amidst the tangle of wires evacuees were able to charge their cell phones and use the internet on a miniature laptop provided for them. Tents for State Farm and Mercury Insurance companies were also present. This small effort eased some of the difficulties evacuees faced.
“It tough, it really is, for all of us,” said Omar Salcido, a volunteer for the Red Cross Santa Barabra by way of Santa Maria Emergency Services. “It was really impacting to see these people very happy on the first day when they saw the fire moving up the hill and away from the houses. And then see it move back down and wondering about what will happen.”
With the fire 80 percent contained according to the Santa Barbara County website, people have returned to homes that were not affected by the fire. Those still in need of refuge can stay at the MAC shelter at UCSB.