Volunteer Frank White, veteran U.S. Navy, receiving donations to Banning High School shelter on Saturday, July 28.
Photo by Holly Parsons

When I arrived at Banning High School Saturday afternoon July 28, it was 106 degrees in the shade. I parked and walked across sizzling asphalt toward the cafeteria area, passing a woman lying on a cot under a shade tent speaking with a Red Cross volunteer, empty water bottles strewn about on the grass around her.

Security approached and advised me there would be no photographs allowed due to a media convergence that succeeded in unnerving evacuees on Thursday. Willingly, I returned the camera to my car.

Once inside the cafeteria, I signed in with the Red Cross and was told they’d ask around if anyone wanted to speak about their ordeal to the Town Crier. My presence triggered a client to become enraged that the press was allowed in, and I was relocated to the gym where two evacuees came to tell their story.

Murrel Crump, lives on Fern Valley Road and is retired from Riverside County Human Resources. Crump relates, “At first I didn’t think it was real because I could see smoke from the Strawberry Shopping Center, and I didn’t think it would get to Fern Valley. Then I heard a megaphone announcing a full evacuation, and I still didn’t take it seriously. But when Edison turn off the power I thought, that’s just them protecting their assets. Then my wife said the sheriff had stopped to say we had a half hour to leave or the roads would be closed both ways. By now there was only 10 minutes left, so we scurried around finding five animals, and by the time everyone was in the car we didn’t have time to pack a bag.

“We drove down to my son’s home in Banning with two children in a one bedroom place, so we couldn’t fit. My wife did stay with our son because she’s nursing one of our cats – as did all the animals because it wasn’t well publicized that the Banning High School would shelter animals in partnership with animal services. We both arrived here to the shelter on, oh, let me see I’ve lost track of time. Yes, it was Thursday morning when we got here, with my wife traveling back and forth to care for animals. I don’t have my tablet or computer with me ¬— an EMT shared her technology with people here in the shelter, but we could only get meager information.”

“Congressman Raul Ruiz M.D. and Riverside County ... Supervisors, Katrina Cline and Mickey Valdivia arrived and asked me what did I need,” relates Crump. They gave us their biz cards [and] invited us to call if we needed anything additional, and we asked for more information. I told Congressman Ruiz we didn’t have access to good information, and it was unnerving. Within four hours, a representative from Cal Fire was here on scene at the shelter answering questions, and it was very comforting to be in the loop, and they’ve continue to provide updates.”

Riverside County opened and ran this shelter through late Friday when those staff members were replaced by the Red Cross, which brought in layers of professionals to support evacuees. Laura Green, acting on behalf of public affairs for the Red Cross, said, “We will always be available when needed, we only need to be asked by a local agency. This has been my first time working in public affairs in a shelter, and I’m humbled by the outpouring of support from the Beaumont and Banning community and volunteers.”

Lee Millet from Idyllwild is a retired sculptor living on Marion View Drive who’s responsible for the creation of many signs in town including the IWD sign. Millet remembers, “I was at home when my daughter from Colorado called to say ‘Dad, Idyllwild’s on fire and you better get out.’ My wife Amy and I threw oil paintings, autographed portraits of the presidents and pictures of my dad, Colonel Lewis Lee Millett and his Congressional Medal of Honor. Dad was a Co E. 27th Inf Regt 25th Inf. Division, and his medal was presented by President Truman in 1951. We loaded up the car with some sculptures and got the puck out of dodge; when we saw the towering inferno of smoke and flame peaking over South Ridge, we really got going. I was a volunteer fireman in Merkle, Texas, before I enlisted in the army, so I knew what these flames meant,” said Millett.

“We drove with our cat, Moose, straight to the shelter at Banning High School. The people here have been fantastic, they’re very compassionate and caring — we are so grateful. The foods been good and the sleeping arrangements have been fine. I use my c-pap, condenser and oxygen bottles, and my wife Amy is also comfortable with these temporary arrangements. Millett continued, “We are a gold star family and will always issue prayers for all the firefighters who have placed themselves in harm’s way for the Idyllwild community.”

I exited the gymnasium and was escorted to the stock room to view donations from the community for evacuees. Supplies have arrived from Templo Calvario Church in Santa Ana, Tom Jamison from Banning, Nichole Pingree from Banning, Barry Mack from Palm Desert, and KOA Banning Stagecoach. Samantha Bently, owner of Grumpy Tom’s Pizzeria in Beaumont, offered to deliver free pizza, if needed. Kathy from Advantage Auto and Cabazon Starbucks donated coffee and bagels. Clearly, many resources seamlessly came together to support Idyllwild residents in their time of need.