San Diego Wildfires

Sal Culotta is an American Red Cross volunteer from Baltimore who was deployed to California to assist the victims of the San Diego wildfires. Once on the ground, Culotta was part of a four-person team that traveled the dusty Southern California back roads searching for those in need.

The foursome found what they were looking for when they stopped in the town of Julian. This tiny community narrowly escaped the Cedar Wildfire that wiped out homes in San Diego County in 2003. Residents are hoping their luck will hold out.

Culotta says that when they arrived a fire was raging on just the other side of the mountain and the town was waiting to see if they would be evacuated. The team introduced themselves and delivered pamphlets to the Julian Chamber of Commerce. Then they went across to the country store.

“They were very glad to see us,” Culotta says. “We have lists of shelters, service centers, and phone numbers for organizations like FEMA and the Salvation Army.”

The back country can be a lonely place where a person can often go unnoticed. That is until help is needed.

Down the road from Julian and just east of the town of Ramona, Culotta and his team found the burnt remains of where a house once stood. A pile of ash and chimney are all that is left standing.

The occupants of the property are still there. A man about 40 years old and his 14 year old son. The Red Cross gave a recommendation for a shelter but the man declined.

“He didn’t want to go to a shelter,” Culotta said. “He made his own out of corrugated metal and tarps.”

Before they left the Red Cross workers gave them clothes, food and transportation money. The workers also gave them a storage bin because what was left of their belongings was ‘strewn all over the place.’

Not far away, Alex Skovira and Kelly Formoso, two AmeriCorps volunteers who are serving with the Central Maryland Red Cross, were navigating a rented ‘big box’ moving trunk full of food, water, clothing, diapers and other essentials to the La Jolla Indian Reservation.

The roads are winding and steep and because of the damage caused by the fire, the Red Cross is among the few travelers that the police will allow on them now. The landscape is scorched to the horizon and Skovira says she saw burned out cars and houses as they approached their destination.

“They lost 60 homes and the neighboring one lost even more than that,” Skovira says about La Jolla Reservation. “They were very happy that we were there. They kept thanking us.”

These volunteers are encouraged by the warm reception the Red Cross gets in the communities they visit and these two are ready to stay on the ground as long as it takes.

“We don’t want to go home yet,” Formoso says. “We’re doing a lot of work and helping out. We’re enjoying our time being here.

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