The Red Cross shelter at Dos Pueblos High School was abuzz with activity as some 20 evacuees from the Jesusita Fire filtered in. The shelter was relocated from the Presbyterian church on the corner of State and Constance streets mere hours earlier, but by 9:30 p.m. the smell of chemically warmed food packets already wafted through the open doors of the gymnasium. An elderly man who was evacuated from his home nibbled gingerly on a piece of meat as he waited for volunteers to finish setting up the cots.
Tom Kasper, a Santa Barbara native who lives off of Alamar near Foothill Road with his 82-year-old mother, said that he had planned to stay in his home, but his mother wanted to leave, so they came to the shelter. “I grabbed a couple guitars and valuables, grabbed my mom’s medications and some clothes. Whatever’s gone is going to be gone,” he said with an easy smile.
The Dos Pueblos gym will be set up to accommodate 200 people by the end of tonight, but Kristiana Kocis, a public affairs officer with the Red Cross’s Santa Barbara Chapter, said that they are prepared to house as many as 2,500 people should the need arise. “The fewer people that come here, the better, because that means they have alternate plans,” she said.
The Red Cross has some 1,300 volunteers in Santa Barbara County, about 30 of which are working tonight. Six are at the DPHS shelter, and 20 are manning the chapter headquarters downtown, coordinating volunteers to staff the shelter and hand out water and snacks to fire fighters for at least the next three days.
At Dos Pueblos, a crew of Best Buy employees from the new Goleta store filed in–having ended their shift at 9 p.m.–to help set up the makeshift shelter. The store hasn’t officially opened yet–the grand opening is on May 15–but they brought with them two flat screen televisions and equipment for a wireless internet connection so that evacuees could keep abreast of fire news. Although the shelter is miles away from the fire, a strong, warm wind came in gusts, serving as a reminder of the danger it still presents.
Dr. Brian Sarvis, superintendent of the Santa Barbara School District, was also at the shelter tonight, making sure Red Cross volunteers had everything they needed. Sarvis said that earlier in the evening he had visited Santa Barbara High School and Santa Barbara Junior High to make sure the helicopters landing on the junior high athletic fields had enough light to guide them safely.
Although five elementary schools will be closed tomorrow (Peabody, Roosevelt, Franklin, Cesar Chavez, and Cleveland), Sarvis said it will be business as usual at all the other schools–even those with people living in the gym and helicopters landing on the fields.