Red Cross Handling Wildfire Evacuees Carefully To Protect Against COVID Spread

By Holliday Moore
Published: Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 12:07pm
Updated: Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 5:45pm

As brush fires bear down on populated areas around the state, evacuees are facing new protocols heading to Red Cross shelters around the state.

The quick moving Aquila Fire threatening residents in the north Phoenix community of Desert Hills forced Arizona Public Services to shut off power for about 2,000 residents late Tuesday afternoon.

“The last thing we want to deal with is down power lines that are energized while we're fighting a fire,” said Captain Mark Vanacor with Phoenix Fire. 

By 6 p.m., the sparsely populated community was ordered to evacuate and head north to Boulder Creek High School.

Two hours into the evacuation, there were barely any cars in the parking lot and the gym was empty, save for a few kennels to help with evacuated animals.

Linda Bonfich and Angie Finch were among the first evacuees arriving at Boulder Creek High School.

They made fast friends as Finch helped Bonfich unload from her car.

“Linda was saying that her power was off,” Finch said with concern.

“I think my house is OK,” Bonfich assure while clutching a cane.  She is focused on her partner who stayed home, “It's just no air.  You can't live there with no air-conditioning.”

Ken Edelblute with the local Red Cross said he suspects a number of evacuees will opt to stay home preferring to risk a brush fire over a possible evacuation crowd in a state where COVID-19 is flourishing.  

If the Aquila Fire evacuation is any indicator of the risks, Finch did not see one.

“As soon as we walked into this Red Cross area, they had a person from the public health taking out temperature, asking us if we’d been by anybody with COVID, so they're on it,” she confirmed.

Both women wore masks, and anyone who did not, was given one on approach.

“We've got some drinks and some snacks,” Edelblute offered as a young man walked toward the gymnasium doors, “Put a mask on for our safety,” he offered to get one for visitors who arrived without one.  

All of the handful of volunteers wore masks greeting residents who stopped inside the lobby.

“They can hang out and cool off,” Edelblute offered for both visitors and their pets, “We have some kennels in the back. They can temporarily put their animals back in the kennels as long as they stay here.”

Few people opted to stay overnight Tuesday, and those that asked for shelter were redirected to hotels helping the Red Cross house evacuees for their own safety.

“Normal sheltering pre COVID, we would have the cots set up in the gymnasium,” Edelblute nodded while peering at the empty indoor basketball court, “Right now, we're trying to minimize exposure.”

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday night, fire crews had the blaze contained, but power remained out through Wednesday at noon between Irvine to Joy Ranch roads and 27th to 19th avenues.

Until power is restored, the Red Cross said they’ll provide shelter from the triple-digit heat.