Pierce College's South Gym in Woodland Hills served as an evacuation center for people seeking refuge from the Woolsey fire. (Zane Meyer-Thornton/Corsair Photo)

by Zane Meyer-Thornton
Special to the Daily Press

The air carried a subtle stench of smoke emanating from an ominous cloud over the hillside, while sporadic gusts of wind; a reminder of what caused this ordeal, continued to spread all three of California’s wild fires on the morning of November 9. Through it all hope and good spirits remained intact for the people who had taken shelter in the Pierce College North and South Gyms due to the Woolsey Fire.

Pierce College was a primary evacuation center for those with large animals such as dogs, horses, and even tortoises. Upon arrival, people were greeted by numerous volunteers and organizations like the Red Cross, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, and Operation Blankets of Love, all gathered to help those affected by the devastating fires. Evacuees had access to food as well as for their pets, and a place to rest and shower.

In large, this was made possible by donations from a local Home Depot and Vons grocery store who supplied water, groceries, and supplies to take care of people’s animals. On top of the bare necessities, there were leisurely activities set up for everyone, a movie room for families, and a coloring station for children.

Cots provided by the Red Cross lined the walls of both the North and South Gyms to accommodate the large number of evacuees who would be taking shelter there. Although people in the gyms were shaken up, hope glimmered throughout. Smiles were given back and forth in a manner which mirrored a small community. No matter where they came from, they could all understand what each other were going through, in this moment of crisis and were supportive to each other.

Stephanie D’Amore from West Lake Village, who evacuated to Pierce College with her French Bulldog Stella, and her Pug Bogie, explained she felt exhausted and scared, but found reassurance in the people around her, she explained, “Everybody here has been really cool so it’s kind of surreal. You come to this and you think it’s going to be dreadful and there has been a lot waiting for cots. But they’ve come through with everything they’ve promised, and it’s actually been enjoyable with the people here. It’s just the agony of wonder. Is our house still there? Will it still be there? And how long will we be here?”

As the night began to close a briefing by City Council Member Bob Blumenfield, Pierce College President Lawrence G. Buckley, and Benita Trujillo, a District Director for third district county of Los Angeles informed evacuees of low resource counts, as well as the restocking of them. At the moment there is no set time or date for when they can return home.

This story is published as part of a partnership between the SMC Corsair student newspaper and the Santa Monica Daily Press.

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