VENTURA (CBSLA) — Amid the multiple fires that were ravaging the Southland Tuesday, the Ventura County Fairgrounds opened its doors to some 400 nearby residents who are bracing for worst back at their homes, all while helping provide some holiday cheer.
High winds helped fuel the massive Thomas Fire in Ventura. By Tuesday evening, the fire had exploded to more than 50,000 acres, destroyed or damaged 150 homes, and threatened 3,000 others.
The Red Cross opened an evacuation center at the fairgrounds, but despite the conditions and a power outage, residents were thankful for the service.
“It’s really emotional because we’re lucky to stay here,” one grateful woman told CBS2 News.
Hot meals, clothing and blankets were provided, as well as safe places for evacuees’ pets as everyone pitched in, setting up cots for the temporary guests.
“It’s sad right now, but I’m a little happy because we escaped,” a young evacuee said.
Even as they waited for the power to come back on, Santa suited up to spread some holiday cheer at the shelter Tuesday, giving people hugs and hope.
“It does show that there is hope and that we come together as a community to help each other,” said one mother.
Another surprise was Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who walked in with four cartloads of new clothes for the evacuees and took some time to greet fans.
“The people of Southern California, you know, we’re family,” Hekker told CBS2. “To see people that are hurting, that are displaced, especially around the holiday season — you know, it breaks your heart.
Diane Campbell with the Red Cross told CBS2 that people can go to the shelter at the fairgrounds, and that there was another one open at Oxnard Community College. She did suggest that people planning to go to any shelter carry a flashlight.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Ventura County Tuesday morning.
Locations for the Ventura County shelters are listed in the Red Cross tweet below.