By Sarah McMahon, American Red Cross
On Monday, October 26, 2020 the Silverado Fire broke out in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads in the Santa Ana Mountains. Later that same day, the Blue Ridge Fire erupted near Yorba Linda, both spreading quickly due to strong Santa Ana Winds. The cities of Irvine and Lake Forest set up Temporary Evacuation Centers in response to the Silverado Fire, which the American Red Cross supported by providing supplies, placing residents in hotels, and providing meals. The Red Cross opened a Temporary Evacuation Point at Chino Hills Community Center in response to the Blue Ridge Fire, providing displaced residents shelter, food, and emotional support. Between the Blue Ridge and Silverado Fires, over 103,000 Orange County and San Bernardino residents were evacuated. The Red Cross provided 908 hotel stays to 510 individuals, served over 1,700 meals, and made 250 individual care contacts. The entire operation lasted 83 hours and would not have been successful without the hard work of hundreds of volunteers and the support of community and first response organizations.
Red Cross of Orange County Board Member and disaster volunteer Shishir Shah served as the Mass Care Lead for the Silverado Fire response. After retiring from Q-Logic, Shishir joined the Red Cross in 2013 as a volunteer and in 2014 joined the Board. In addition to serving as a Mass Care Lead for the Orange County chapter he is also a Duty Officer and Supervisor for a local Disaster Action Team (DAT). DAT volunteers deploy to disasters such as home fires whenever and wherever they occur. On average, Shishir estimates receiving two to three DAT calls each month. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he would arrive to disaster scenes in person to provide aid and comfort to survivors. Now, most responses are done virtually when possible to ensure the safety of the community and Red Cross staff.
On the day the fire started, Shishir was evacuated from his own home and began his volunteer work remotely from a friend’s house. He was able to return home the following day, and continued volunteering. Shishir deployed virtually to the Silverado Fire response, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t working hard. “The first day, Monday, we were working from 3 in the afternoon to 3:30 a.m., finding hotels for everyone who was displaced, coordinating the response with the city, and getting supplies in place. The next day we were coordinating a lot of feeding and delivering food to the hotels. Before COVID happened, we would bring people to a shelter, set up a meal line and serve the meals. Now, we must get pre-packaged meals and go to the hotels to distribute them there. It takes far more time and coordination.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges in disaster response, but Shishir remained focused on the tasks at hand. “When I was in response mode I wasn’t thinking, I was just executing. I was concentrating on making sure everyone got what they needed. Red Cross volunteers are very committed and focused, so after the fact—when people talk about the response or thank us—that’s when the work really sinks in.”
Even though the first day of the Silverado Fire response was hectic, Shishir recalls being inspired by the dedication of Red Cross volunteers and our community partners. “A lot of people came together quickly. When we were still working at 3 a.m., nobody was complaining. Everyone was focused on serving people the best way we could. That was a nice reflection of how we come together.”
Shishir says there is a great sense of satisfaction in volunteering at the Red Cross, “There is huge opportunity to volunteer and exercise the skills you’ve learned along the way.” He cites the low overhead cost as another reason to support the Red Cross. “90 cents of every dollar go to helping someone. That’s an incredible statistic for such a large organization, and I see it firsthand.”
Shishir has deployed to many disasters in the past seven years, and continues to enjoy his work. “I’m really happy that I’m working here. It keeps me busy; it keeps me sharp, and I’m satisfied because I have good things to do during my retirement. It’s a win-win situation. My work might help somebody else, but it helps me as well.”
To learn more about volunteering or to become a Red Cross volunteer, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.