Pierce houses Red Cross evacuation center

Red Cross and Operation Blankets of Love vans loaded out supplies in front of the South Gym at Pierce College as evacuees from the Woolsey and Hill Fires piled in with family and animal companions alike.

For the first time, Pierce College is a designated evacuation center for the Red Cross, accepting anyone seeking safety. Families from Thousand Oaks, Calabasas, Oak Park and Malibu have found their way to Pierce.

Evacuees are being facilitated with an array of juices, energy beverages, protein bars, sandwiches and other snacks in both the South and North Gyms. They are also being provided a cot, blanket and a comfort kit filled with toiletries.

Jennifer Dutton, acting shelter manager for the Pierce College shelter, explained the long hours that the Red Cross have been pouring into the relief effort.

“We want to make sure that all the people have a place to stay, place to sleep and meals,” Dutton said. “We have been working since somewhere around 7 p.m. and here at Pierce since 1 a.m.”

Pierce College Interim President Larry Buckley received a call from the American Red Cross late last night asking to use Pierce as an official shelter and Buckley jumped at the offer. Buckley made clear that he wanted the community to know that Pierce is their partner.

“It feels like we are doing our responsibility,” Buckley said. “We’re not just a community college, we are this community’s college.”

Buckley remembered in the early hours of Friday, there was a woman watching the news on her iPad, and she noticed that it was her own house that was burning.

“I’m just happy that we could be here with her and for her in that moment, that’s what we are supposed to be doing,” Buckley said.

Pierce College students from the Veterinary Technology program volunteered to triage both the animals and the humans that were on campus, making sure that no one inhaled too much smoke.

Candy Reyes, a veterinary student, expressed what it is like to use her education in a crisis situation.

“We just are trying to help with whoever needs assistance here, to make sure everyone’s lungs are okay,” Reyes said. “That’s why we are in this field, to help animals that are in need and it’s great to take the knowledge that we have learned here and put it to work.”

There was also Pierce College staff that chose to stay and assist with passing out supplies despite the campus closure.

Counselor Joseph Roberson reflected on lending a helping hand.

“I figured why go home and why not take an opportunity to contribute when I saw these humans suffering,” Roberson said. “It’s a blessing, I did it because it made me feel like I was contributing to the world.”

Operation Blankets of Love, an animal welfare and emergency relief organization, also came on campus, making sure that the animal companions that people brought with them had supplies as well.

They passed out both dog and cat food, treats, leashes, collars and blankets for both people and their pets. “We are in overload here, and we are here to meet the demand,” said Brad Smulson, co-founder of Operation Blankets of Love. “We are trying to provide food and comfort so if people can check out what we do, you can help us help them.”

Evacuees have settled in and are waiting to find out if their street or home is the next to be affected by the fires.

Bob Teneyck was one of those who had to evacuate their homes in Calabasas around 2 a.m. with his family.

“We got a phone call, Calabasas alerted us with the call,” Teneyck said. “We just don’t know what is happening where we live. Hopefully everyone is going to be okay and we get to go home.”

Police cars lined the parking lot in front of the two gyms, patrolling around and making sure that all the new people on campus are safe.

“We are assisting in anyway that we can, with the Red Cross, with the people and their pets, guiding and directing, last night we were helping with horses, basically anything we can do,”  Deputy Sheriff Joel Deleon said. “We are happy to help, that’s what this is about.”

The fire has only been amplified by the strong winds and the dry conditions that the area has been experiencing, with already 14,000 acres destroyed from the fire. Governor-elect Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and he has requested federal funds to help those who were impacted by wildfires in California.