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Alaskans respond to California wildfires through the Red Cross

Shayne Jones volunteers at a Red Cross shelter at the Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California.
Shayne Jones volunteers at a Red Cross shelter at the Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California.(Red Cross)
Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 6:32 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaskans have handled several emergencies in the past few years from a magnitude 7.1 earthquake to a devastating wildfire season in 2019. Several Alaskans who responded to those disasters traveled to California while wildfires forced residents to evacuate from their homes.

Shayne Jones is normally the disaster program manager for the Red Cross of Alaska. Last week he was running a shelter in San Jose, California for people evacuating from the several different wildfires in northern California. He’s one of several Alaskans from throughout the state who traveled to California to volunteer with the Red Cross.

“Shelter operations is all about providing a place for people to go that is safe, a place where they can get some food and take of themselves if they’ve been evacuated from their homes due to the wildfires,” Jones said.

The Red Cross partners with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to shelter people during disasters. Jones has traveled outside of Alaska on a handful of other relief efforts, but COVID-19 has changed the way shelters can respond.

“The days of us putting everyone in a massive gymnasium with a bunch of cots are pretty much over until this pandemic kind of eases its way out,” Jones said.

In their latest update on Tuesday, Cal Fire said one of several wildfires spanning multiple counties was 72% contained but has been active for almost two weeks.

Jones said when he first arrived, around 77,000 people were told to evacuate from their homes. The evacuation warning has since been lifted, but Jones said the shelter he is supervising will be open for at least a week.

The Red Cross of Alaska said four Alaskan volunteers deployed to California to assist with relief efforts. They were joined by volunteers throughout the nation including volunteers from Georgia, Florida and Virginia.

“No region has enough volunteers to where they can do this independently so when there is a larger disaster like the wildfires we have to bring the volunteers in from everywhere,” Jones said.

The Alaskan volunteers are doing everything from supervising shelters to providing health services and distributing emergency supplies.

In response to the fires, thousands of meals have been provided to 2,300 Californians, the Red Cross of Alaska said in a statement on Aug. 24. Anyone can help the Red Cross respond to these events by donating to the organization, but Jones says there are several ways to do that.

“Even in the state of Alaska, people’s time and energy as volunteers is just as valuable as a financial donation and people can get involved and volunteer with the Red Cross through the same process,” Jones said.

The Red Cross of Alaska has responded to 401 different disasters in fiscal year 2020 by giving food, shelter and relief supplies. Volunteers have been deployed to help 55 communities statewide, the nonprofit organization said. In the same year, the Red Cross of Alaska noted 582 different volunteers in the state.

For more information about volunteering with the Red Cross, visit their website here.

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