Inside the inferno

  • photo submitted by Padraic Gallagher

    Padraic Gallagher and other American Red Cross volunteers meet together to discuss logistics at the shelter in Santa Paula, California.

  • photo submitted by Padraic Gallagher

    Water donations pile up at the Ventura, California warehouse, where American Red Cross volunteers helped distribute supplies to those in need.

  • photo submitted by Padraic Gallagher

    This photo shows the Thomas Fire burning along Highway 101 in Montecito, California.

  • photo submitted by Padraic Gallagher

    American Red Cross volunteers gather for a group photo at the Santa Paula, California shelter.

LIHUE — Guinea pig food isn’t the first thing that pops up on a list of disaster relief supplies.

In fact, Padraic Gallagher, Kauai’s director of disaster services for Red Cross Kauai, said it was one of the firsts he encountered during his two weeks helping with the California Thomas Fire.

“I was loading a bunch of dog and cat food into someone’s car and I was joking with them — telling them we even got a bag of guinea pig food,” Gallagher reminisced about working in a warehouse in Ventura.

He continued: “The lady was like, ‘I have guinea pigs and we have no way to feed them.’ She gave me a big hug. It’s funny, I’ve found people don’t always know what they need until you ask them.”

Gallagher was in Santa Paula, Santa Barbara and Ventura, California from Dec. 6 through Dec. 19. He opened up shelters in the more rural community of Santa Paula and at the University of California campus in Santa Barbara.

Six people on his team were from Hawaii, with two from Oahu, one from Maui and another from Molokai.

Between shuffling cases of water, distributing clothing items and small furniture, and directing relief efforts, the Aloha State team members found something special: strawberries.

Farmers in Santa Paula inundated the shelter, which was housing about 50 people, with cases of fruit — including oranges, grapefruits and strawberries.

While other members of the team jumped on the citrus, which was more in season, the Hawaii team members took on the strawberries full force.

“It was one of those memorable moments because someone said to me, ‘you’re eating the strawberries out of season’,” he said. “I looked over and the other people from Hawaii were eating them, too. I said, ‘not for us in Hawaii, it’s not.’”

Gallagher said the majority of his disaster relief response has been centered around hurricanes, not fires, and he noticed marked differences with fire relief efforts.

“The hurricane, you know when it’s coming. Then it hits and it’s done,” he said. “This was interesting because you had to react to what conditions were like and there was a lot more of a ‘hurry up’ than it was preparing for the crescendo, riding it out and it’s over.”

Days after his return to Kauai, Gallagher said his lungs are still heavy and his throat still scratchy from the smoke-soaked state of California.

“Everybody wore masks wherever they went,” he said. “Little piles of ash were everywhere.”

The kindness of the community also impacted Gallagher, who said everyone was thanking the team wherever they went.

“Several times we didn’t buy our own meals,” he said. “Someone would buy our meal for us or give us a free meal.”

Community involvement, especially in Santa Paula, was inspiring, he said. With that shelter, even had to start shuffling donations off to the Salvation Army and the United Way because the Red Cross had too much.

“It was crazy to see how much the community came out,” he said. “Of those 50 people in that shelter (Santa Paula), they all had enough stuff to get them by for at least a couple of weeks as far as food, water and clothing.”

  1. debra kekaualua December 28, 2017 9:05 am Reply

    Mahalo Red Cross Hawaii for your assisting ventura which was brought to them via DEW, a new practice using tools that make mincemeat out of entire neighborhoods! Forest Fire does NOT get it, when glass melts and greenery abounds around this thousands of structures microWaved!

    1. debra kekaualua December 28, 2017 2:17 pm Reply

      So many displaced, just like that! Impossible to calculate as a forest fire. clearly, it was started via DEW. There are too many mind blowing anomalies and a whole lot of brainwashed individuals. God bless even the purple people eaters for they know EXactly what they doing!

  2. Sunrise_blue December 28, 2017 9:25 am Reply

    Big fire. Finances, they spent a lot on firemen. For some of the firemen, it’s the show. The smarter ones survived. The others not so lucky. Fallen from the ladder. They die of heat. Burned body. What a job. They say it will continue into January 2018. 775 homes destroyed.

  3. Sunrise_blue December 28, 2017 10:17 am Reply

    Forest fires in Hawai’i are small. This fire is the largest they had. I don’t think they’ll be back. Too much to take. It will go down as the largest fire in USA history.

    Basically the firemen are replaced. Otherwise, they won’t make it out. Very hot and dangerous. Too damn tight of a shift, but it’s the life of a firemen.

    I hope they write on it. National Geographic magazine

  4. Sunrise_blue December 28, 2017 10:31 am Reply

    Arson. Somebody started it. Thomas fire in California. He probably got caught. Too late by then.

    If not, a fugitive in California. One fiemen came from Ohio. Third time he has been called to fight fire. What will happen? Just no house, no anything just them and the job.

    Who knows? Just them.

  5. Sunrise_blue December 28, 2017 10:39 am Reply

    I think a job is a job. But the pay sucks. Firemen? No one cared. Stop the fire or stop the arsonist? One in the same. But what kind of job is this? Only the few.

    A job. I guess. Only on Kaua’i though.

  6. Sunrise_blue December 28, 2017 11:42 am Reply


    That’s it.

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