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Local Red Cross volunteers help wildfire-ravaged Washington residents

Red Cross volunteer Mark Penza loads supplies to help victims of the wildfires in eastern Washington. Penza returned Wednesday after spending two weeks in the Chelan, Wash., area.
Red Cross volunteer Mark Penza loads supplies to help victims of the wildfires in eastern Washington. Penza returned Wednesday after spending two weeks in the Chelan, Wash., area.

Two local volunteers with the American Red Cross were recently deployed to eastern Washington to assist with relief efforts as wildfires continue to ravage the area.

The fires – which include the Carlton complex, the largest wildfire in the state’s history – have destroyed more than 300 homes and caused more than $35 million in damage.

San Luis Obispo resident Mark Penza spent two weeks distributing supplies such as water, snacks, rakes, shovels and masks to Washington residents who have been displaced by the fires.

“Those are the kind of supplies that survivors need to start cleaning up the mess that used to be their home,” said Penza, who returned home Wednesday.

Colleen Hubbard, a retired nurse from San Luis Obispo, was also dispatched to Washington to help.

Hubbard is stationed in Wenatchee, Wash. and is helping take care of the health needs of volunteers.

“A lot of it has been heat-related,” said Hubbard, adding that the temperature soared to a record 105 degrees Farenheit last week.

Hubbard said she is about 45 minutes south of the latest fires, many of which started by lightning strikes.

“It’s been hot and there hasn’t been a lot of rain here so everything is dry,” she said.

Penza, who was in Chelan, Wash. was closer to the devastation.

“We could always see and smell the plumes of smoke,” he said.

Penza, who retired from the Grover Beach Police Department, said volunteering for the Red Cross is his way of giving back.

This was his fifth deployment in less than two years, including volunteering to do casework in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy.

“It is gut-wrenching but I suppose gratifying that we are a small part in helping them start to recover,” he said.

How to Help

The San Luis Obispo Chapter of the American Red Cross has 200 volunteers signed up to assist with emergencies and disasters locally and afar. More volunteers are always needed, said Jason Karpf. Learn more at http://www.redcross.org/ca/san-luis-obispo/volunteer.

Financial donations to help people affected by disasters like the eastern Washington fires can be made to the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS (733-2767) or texting the word “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

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