Jean Perry, chair of the Language Arts division at Glendale College and hundreds of other La Canada Flintridge residents evacuated their homes on Aug. 27 in flight from the Station Fire.
She received a call around midnight. She grabbed her daughter, a senior at La Canada High School, and her three dogs, hopped in the car and drove off.
Perry, who lives about two blocks from the Angeles National Forest, prepared for the evacuation beforehand.
“We had packed a few things, but it’s always a shock when that phone call comes,” said Perry. “We grabbed photo albums and pictures off the walls, things that weren’t insured.”
“I remember standing in my living room looking around and thinking there were big, big items we couldn’t pack. We didn’t quite know what to do or what to take.”
To give displaced residents a place to stay, Red Cross set up an evacuation center at La Canada High School on Aug. 28. The center sheltered a little over 100 evacuees at its peak. While some settled in for a lengthy stay, others either returned home or decided to spend the remainder of their time as evacuees at a friend’s or relative’s home.
Many of the residents checked in at the La Canada center to contemplate their next steps. On the other hand, Perry, like many others, previously arranged to stay with a friend. The college’s ESL Division Chair, Kathleen Flynn, welcomed Perry and her family into her home in Tujunga.
At the La Canada center, situated inside the school’s old gym, temperatures rose and remained high due to body heat and the absence of an air conditioning system.
“With the smoke and the heat, it wasn’t the most comfortable shelter. But it certainly wasn’t the most uncomfortable shelter I’ve ever worked,” said Sam Burgess, shelter manager for the Red Cross.
To offset the smoke and the heat emanating from the fire, Los Angeles County donated two swamp coolers to circulate the air, cooling temperatures considerably.
Red Cross provided evacuees with basic essentials such as shelter and clothing. It also provided comfort kits that included soap, deodorant, towels, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Evacuees were provided military-style cots and blankets. Red Cross also provided food and water. According to Burgess, local businesses, including Ralphs, Vons, and Starbucks, donated meals.
“We were really spoiled by the local community,” said Burgess. “We were well fed. Believe me, La Canada Flintridge went out of its way for this shelter. It was unbelievable…. The Red Cross was appreciative of that.”
Along with the necessities came luxuries in the form of a large screen television and games for children.
Various services were also readily available. Allstate and State Farm insurance set up tents outside the shelter to provide answers for evacuees who had questions regarding home insurance. Medical and mental health personnel were on hand, along with a sheriff deputy and five or six Red Cross workers. The Fire Department visited everyday to give updates on the fire, information that preceded news broadcasts.
While the evacuation center remained open until the following Thursday, Perry was informed that she could return home that Monday.
Perry’s home was untouched by the fire, but she said, “I was amazed and a little amused to see that the one and only thing that burned was one carnation bud which apparently had been hit by an ember.”
The fire, which continued to spread in all directions, eventually affected the cities of Altadena, La Crescenta, and Tujunga. Evacuation centers were also set up in La Crescenta and Tujunga.
Flynn evacuated her home in Tujunga around the time Perry returned home. Appropriately, Perry took her in.
After settling in and getting some much-needed rest, Perry had time to reflect.
“I think I heard from everyone I knew across the nation calling me. ‘Are you okay? Are you okay?'” she said. “So it makes you get in touch with everyone you know.
“But you also begin to think about what it’s really like to face the prospect of losing everything you have. And it doesn’t matter if you have a safe or a safety deposit box…. It really makes you think.”