Citrus Fair

Safe meal — The Lions Club uses its outdoor grill to feed evacuees during the 2019 Kincade Fire.

Local group looking for volunteers to help if the fair becomes a designated evacuation center

A local group is working to create a plan of action for the Cloverdale Citrus Fair, should it become an evacuation center during a future fire. The group — Citrus Fair CEO Katie Young, former CEO Bonnie Wlodarczyk, Ed Bowen from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cloverdale and James DeMartini — is working with the Red Cross to create an evacuation center plan, and is currently soliciting volunteers willing to participate in training as shelter managers.

The idea to create an emergency plan for the Citrus Fair came three years ago, following the 2017 fires. When the fires first hit, the then-CEO of the Citrus Fair, Wlodarczyk, received an early morning call saying that the Citrus Fair had been designated as an evacuation center. Shortly after that, Wlodarczyk and a group of others all worked to feed and house 300 people who were displaced. 

“Bonnie and I have worked that kitchen together for 25 to 30 years, so we know it real well. It worked. Ed (Bowen) got his folks from the LDS Church and the other service clubs, Kiwanis primarily, kicked in and we fed and housed 300 people for 72 hours,” said DeMartini.

“We realized, Bonnie and I, that we had no idea how to operate like that. This was something brand new for us,” he continued.

After their experience in 2017, DeMartini said that they didn’t want to have to face a second evacuation event without a concrete plan for how to operate the fairground. Then, along came last year’s Kincade Fire. While the fair wasn’t a designated evacuation center during the October 2019 fire (it couldn’t be, due to lack of power), people still flocked to Cloverdale to seek food and a place to park their cars or trailers while evacuating the southern part of north county. People who had evacuated farther north also got stuck in Cloverdale on their way back, since many people tried to go farther north and then realized they wouldn’t be able to find enough gas to do so.

“They couldn’t designate it an evacuation center, so we weren’t presented with (the same) issues, but it made it just more poignant that we had to have a plan. We just can’t be winging it every time this happens and you know it’s going to happen again,” DeMartini said. 

So, the group decided to reach out to the Red Cross and see if they would be able to provide some training and an example of a plan that could be implemented at the Citrus Fair.

The Red Cross likely takes over evacuation shelters after the first 72 hours of it being open, so the group is primarily concerned with finding people who can help with the first three days of shelter operation. 

What does it take to volunteer?

When looking for volunteers, DeMartini said that they first approached Cloverdale’s service groups and were able to get a handful of volunteers who were prepared to take training from the Red Cross.

While anyone willing to help or be trained is appreciated, he said that the group is  really looking to find around six people who are fully committed to training as shelter managers, rather than people who would only be able to come to the fairgrounds to volunteer for a few hours.

“For supervisors, that cadre really has to be committed,” DeMartini said. “They have to put in a shift or two shifts a day for the first two to three days. We really need some folks who are committed and prepared to spend the time for the first two to three days and be there. We had 300 people more or less last time — we figured out how to put the large animals one place, smaller pets another place, the people with allergies one place — we kind of bumbled through.”

To train to be a manager, individuals take a four-hour class, which will be held at the Citrus Fair once they’re able to gather multiple people in one place.

“I think (we need) someone with a real commitment — knowing that if there was an emergency and they had to be called on, they would possibly have to leave their family and be gone for eight hours or so,” Bowen said.

When asked if there are certain characteristics they’re looking for in volunteers, the group emphasized that they are looking for people who are committed and have a sense of humor. Young added that it’s also helpful if folks are bilingual.

“I definitely think that the core group that we’re trying to assemble here, I think the goal is that they can help in any natural disaster or emergency that arises,” Young said. “Our hope is that this group will be this great core, they will be trained and oftentimes in emergency there are changes and challenges that we never planned for, but at least we’ll all have been through some training.”

In addition to looking for people willing to be formally trained, the group said that they want to work on building a phone tree of people or groups to contact in case of an emergency.

Those interested in volunteering to be part of the core group of shelter managers should contact James DeMartini at jim@cloverdalelaw.com or 707-894-5000.

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