For many Angelenos driving into work yesterday, it was hard to miss the dark plumes of smoke from the 1,700-acre Colby fire that broke out in the San Gabriel Valley city of Glendora. But while many drivers immediately tuned into their radio stations, Luis Lara’s reaction was to first make arrangements for his two kids so he could volunteer at a Red Cross shelter for the fire victims.
For the past two years, Lara has been an Edison International Ready When the Time Comes volunteer, trained to assist at a Red Cross shelter whenever the need arises. This time, he was called to the Glendora High School Event Center to help check-in victims of the Colby fire, set out cots and help bring a sense of comfort for those who may have lost their homes.
“There was a need,” said Lara, 37 from Fontana, a Southern California Edison (SCE) account coordinator in the Business Customer Division, when asked why he felt it was important to help. “We need to serve our communities and we are here to do that.”
As of Jan. 17, the Colby fire was 30 percent contained and has destroyed 1709 acres. When the fire first started on Jan. 16 at about 6 a.m., 3,600 people were evacuated, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. In total, five homes were destroyed and 17 other buildings were damaged. One civilian was hurt trying to protect her home and two firefighters were also injured.
During his shift Jan. 16 at the Red Cross shelter, Lara met a woman whose home had been destroyed. She had come in with her two kids and had spent the night on cots laid out by the volunteers. Her dismay at losing her home was evident, he said, but he did his best to comfort her.
“On a personal level, this is exactly the reason for wanting to volunteer and wanting to offer my support,” said Lara, who noted that several people thanked him after finding out he was an Edison volunteer. “There’s not much I can do for her materially, but if I can give her some support, maybe make her chuckle and relieve some stress for her.”
About 50 people came through the shelter during his 12-hour shift, said Lara. There were nine adults and two kids who ended up staying the night.
So far, 79 SCE customers have had their power out because of the Colby fire. Crews were allowed to enter the damaged areas yesterday and have been working to restore power, replacing downed poles and restringing wires. Much of the work is in difficult terrain and helicopters may be needed to repair the remote poles.
Ahmad Solomon, an SCE region manager who is part of a larger Local Public Affairs team, is currently in Glendora speaking with local residents in the damaged area. He has been going door-to-door talking with folks and ensuring them that crews were working to restore their power.
“The customers are very thankful,” said Solomon. “They know we have a tough job to do and are just excited we are here. They realize it is a tough location and situation and they are very happy we have started repairs.”
Seeing the devastation first hand, Solomon is amazed at the extent of the damage.
“It’s really sad. We just spoke to someone who lost their home,” he said. “It’s really powerful to see the fire itself and the damage it caused. Some homes look like they haven’t been damaged, but their garage or shed have been burnt to the ground.”
Lara was back at work this morning, having had only two and a half hours of sleep after his shift at the Red Cross shelter. Before heading out last night, he sat his 7- and 11-year-old kids down to explain why he wouldn’t be home that night to tuck them into bed.
“I explained that daddy is helping those who don’t have food and shelter; making them feel safe.”
He hopes his example will encourage other Edison volunteers to get trained to help out at emergency shelters.
“We live here, we work here, so let’s serve here,” he said.