Pandemic Forces Operational Changes at Valley Fire Evacuation Sites

Dozens camped in the parking lot of Steele Canyon High School, partially because of pandemic restrictions.

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At Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley, an evacuation point set up in the gymnasium gave Valley Fire evacuees a place to eat, visit nurses, use the bathrooms and keep cool, but complications presented by the coronavirus pandemic forced them to rest their heads outside or elsewhere.

"The temporary evacuation point is not a shelter, it is a rest site for those affected to assess their needs and for the Red Cross to present lodging options," the Red Cross said.

The Red Cross has evacuation sites set up at Steele Canyon and El Capitan High School in Lakeside. A third at Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine was at max capacity as of Tuesday evening.

Under normal circumstances you might see cots sprawled across the floors of the gyms, but now the Red Cross is making hotel rooms available to families who can't camp out in the parking lot.

More than 250 individuals from 90 families sought shelter in hotels Monday night, and the Red Cross said it expected to house another 115 families Tuesday.

Renee and Don Deede have been camping in the Steele Canyon parking lot since Monday when they evacuated their Deerhorn Valley home.

“Waiting for scraps of information to come in and then applying that to what you know. So I read to escape,” Don Deede said describing the wait.

If they seem unusually chipper and even relaxed, it’s because of their perspective. This isn't the first time they've had to evacuate. Also, Don Deede is a retired firefighter.

“The ‘07 fire, the fire came up over the back ridge and came back down to the house,” he remembered.

The Valley Fire to them feels like less of a threat compared to past fires, but they know that’s not the case for everyone and realize things could change at any moment.

“That’s the thing about Santa Ana winds, is that they’re erratic. They change directions and you can’t predict where the fires gonna go,” said Don Deede.

Their home is still standing for now, but if it were to go down in flames the Deedes said they aren’t terribly worried because they are confident in their insurance policy and the fact that they don’t have a lot of belongings.

“It took longer to get the animals ready to go then it took to get us ready to go. Just because stuff,” said Renee Deede.

The risk of living on their ranch for the past 25 years is evident every fire season, but still, they said they would never move.

“So we’re evacuated for five days. There are 360 days of the year that it’s absolute heaven,” said Renee Deede.

The Deede's have, however, surrendered to the fact that what happens next is out of their control. So they're focusing on a good book and the kindness of their fellow campers.

“We’ve had a lot of nice people come by and offer us ice, and water, and pizzas, and all kinds of stuff. And the biggest thing I can say is thank you,” said Don Deede.

If you're not already prepared for an immediate evacuation, click here for tips and things to consider.

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