By Michelle Fitzsimmons
City News Reporter

While Santa Cruz County’s May 15 wildfire has officially been doused, the tide of victims in need of material and emotional support will not abate any time soon.

Thanks to diligent preparation and prudent cooperation, local charities and relief organizations have been able to provide emergency and long-term aid to the victims of the wildfire, which claimed 36 residences and scorched approximately 4,270 acres of land.

When strong winds riled up a controlled burn at a residence and authorities began to evacuate those in endangered areas, the American Red Cross and Salvation Army were the first organizations to step in.

Maricela Viquez, a co-officer at the Santa Cruz Salvation Army, said that each agency was prepared to provide a particular service long before the disaster began.

“Through a national agreement in place with other organizations, it was established that the American Red Cross would be responsible for emergency housing and the Salvation Army would be responsible for food and hydration,” Viquez said.

Salvation Army volunteers clocked in 723 hours over the course of five days, Viquez said, and served approximately 1,030 meals.

The Red Cross always has sites prepared to house victims of any type of disaster, according to Lindsay Segersin, the marketing manager for the Santa Cruz American Red Cross.

“We actually had a drill for a wildfire in a middle-school gym the weekend before this fire started,” Segersin said. “Through our partnerships with shelters, churches and fairgrounds throughout the county, we are ready to go any time.”

The Santa Cruz Red Cross shut down the shelter it was operating at the Watsonville fairgrounds on May 24, but will continue to provide any type of assistance until clients no longer need it, Segersin said.

Viquez echoed this resolve.

“The Salvation Army provides both immediate and long-term relief,” Viquez said. “We will still be helping anyone involved in the fire for about a year.”

Debbie Liardet, director of community giving at the Santa Cruz United Way, said her agency is stepping in to begin the long process of getting the victims back on their feet and rebuilding their lives.

“The United Way is here to provide assistance for all the people who have suffered direct material loss as a result of the fire,” Liardet said. “Those who have lost their homes and didn’t have house insurance, car insurance or health insurance will receive monetary assistance from the United Way.”

Material assistance is a large part of the recovery process, but the victims will need emotional and psychological support as well.

“Right now we have 100 active volunteers doing case work for 310 separate mental health cases,” Segersin said. “These are people who’ve lost their life’s work and are experiencing a lot of anxiety and anguish.”

All agencies said they are primed to deal with fires that authorities expect over this summer.

“We are definitely ready to handle any type of emergency,” Segersin said.

“The Salvation Army is always prepared to serve 1,000 meals,” Viquez said. “And when the American Red Cross runs out of funds, we are prepared to step in and provide assistance.”

The United Way, like the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, relies heavily on private donations to help disaster victims get back on their feet after their lives have been devastated.

“It’s really touching to see a community pull together at a time like this,” Liardet said. “People in the community have really rallied to help these victims. This is why we live in Santa Cruz.”