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Red Cross Responds as Massive Fires Sweep through New Jersey

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She’s been taking special care of me. She’s been wonderful.

Communities Pulling Together to Help Displaced Families

Community groups rallied together as a trio of large fires broke out across New Jersey earlier this week displacing families in Passaic, Ocean Grove and Union City. The American Red Cross New Jersey Region’s Disaster Action Team has been on the scene at each fire providing compassionate care to those impacted. 

“Over the course of three days, New Jersey was struck by three massive fires,” said Ana Montero, CEO, American Red Cross New Jersey Region. “Our thoughts are with the families affected during this difficult time. We have been working closely with our community partners to provide help and hope to those devastated by these fires.”

UNION CITY 
In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 4 Griciel was awakened by the yells of a friend who was staying the night at Griciel’s home. 

“My friend woke up and saw a flickering, orange glow,” Griciel recalled. “She pulled back the curtains, saw the flames and started yelling ‘fire.’”

The family of seven and their friend ran for the front door, but opened it to find a wall of smoke and flames. Quickly the family ran to the living room window to escape. Griciel carefully handed each of her six children out of the window to her husband and friend. Once outside, the family ran through their back yard and climbed a fence to escape from the blaze. 

The Griciel’s family was among the families that took refuge in a shelter opened by the City of Union City and the American Red Cross at the Jose Marti Freshman Academy. At the shelter, Red Cross volunteers met one-on-one with the families providing emotional support and emergency assistance for food, clothing and other immediate needs to those displaced by the fire. Red Cross health services, mental health services and disaster spiritual care services were also available at the shelter for those in need. 

Among those who stayed at the shelter was 99-year-old Louise who was temporarily displaced and awaiting word of when she would be able to return to her home. 

Wheelchair bound Louise formed a close bond with Red Cross volunteer Xenia who helped her maneuver around the shelter. 

“She’s been taking special care of me,” Louise said of Xenia. “She’s been wonderful.”

To allow families to stay close to their pets, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) set up a pet shelter in a separate room at the Jose Marti Freshman Academy. 

“We recognize that pets are part of our family too,” said Montero. “We are grateful for the Community Emergency Response Team that organized an on-site pet shelter and provided excellent care to the families’ beloved animals.”

The shelter was able to close on Monday, March 6. Red Cross emergency assistance was provided to 14 families, 55 people, in need.  

OCEAN GROVE 
Families fled their Ocean Grove homes as flames engulfed several residences on Seaview Avenue on the morning Friday, March 3. Residents found safety at Saint Paul’s Parish, which opened its doors to provide people haven from the cold weather and harsh winds. 

Saint Paul’s Parish welcomed the Red Cross to use its facilities for a reception center for the displaced families. The reception center offered those displaced by the fire, as well as those evacuated from nearby homes as a precaution, a warm place to receive help and wait for updates regarding the fire. Meals were generously donated for residents by Saint Paul’s Parish, Ocean Grove Fire Department and The Tides restaurant. 

Throughout the day, Red Cross volunteers have met with families to provide comfort and emergency assistance to families displaced by the fire. Red Cross health, mental health and spiritual care services were also available at the reception center for those in need. 

Volunteers provided Red Cross emergency assistance for food, clothing and other immediate needs to 32 people in 20 families. 

Friends and family of those displaced came to the reception center to connect with their loved ones and bring them to stay at their homes.  

PASSAIC
An overnight fire on Thursday, March 2 at an apartment build on Gregory Avenue in Passaic forces approximately 170 people from their homes. Families gathered at a reception center opened at the Passaic Senior Center to get out of the cold and enjoy a warm meal.

An estimated four to eight apartment suffered damaged or destroyed by the fire. Residents in other units were temporarily displaced until utilities could be restored and the building deemed safe to return.  

Volunteers met one-on-one with the 46 displaced families to provide emotional support an emergency assistance for food, clothing and other immediate needs to more than 150 people. 

In coordination with the City of Passaic and the Passaic Office of Emergency Management, the American Red Cross has opened a shelter at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School for families in need of a place to stay. While many families were able to stay with friends and family, five families were cared for at the shelter. Red Cross health services, mental health services and disaster spiritual care services were made available at the shelter for those in need.

Following the fires, Red Cross caseworkers work with each family to help them develop a recovery plan and connect them with additional local agencies that may be able to provide long-term assistance. 

“Red Cross emergency assistance is free to those impacted by disasters and is made possible thanks to the dedication of our compassionate volunteers and generosity of our donors,” added Montero. 

People can help people affected by disasters like home fires and countless other crises by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. These gifts enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

JOIN THE RED CROSS DISASTER ACTION TEAM It is through the time and care of ordinary people that extraordinary things can be accomplished. The Red Cross is always looking for people with various backgrounds, talents and skill levels and is inviting members of the community to become volunteers. 

“Our Disaster Action Team members are compassionate and kind hearted individuals from communities all over New Jersey,” said Steven Sarinelli, regional disaster officer, American Red Cross New Jersey Region. “We train our disaster volunteers to be able to provide care and assistance to families affected by home fires and other disasters.” 

To learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities in New Jersey or to register as a volunteer, visit redcross.org.