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Red Cross of West Michigan sends volunteers to California wildfires

The 29 deaths in Northern California matches the state's deadliest single fire on record, a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A handful of local volunteers for the American Red Cross are in California responding to the wildfires destroying more than 200,000 acres.

Within the last 72 hours, the Red Cross of West Michigan was notified of a need for on-scene volunteers, said Executive Director Tiffany Page.

“As of right now, we have just a few from West Michigan because this is happening very quickly,” Page said. “As evacuation orders continue and the unfortunate fatalities increase, we know that we’ll send additional volunteers.”

Grim search for more wildfire victims, 31 dead across California

Fifteen people, including Page, are on standby expecting assignments by Wednesday, Nov. 14.

Former Ringling Brothers Ringmaster Kris Antekeier, a Muskegon native living in Los Angeles, said his home in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood is safe after a fire broke out last week.

“[It was put] out quickly, thank goodness, because in the past, we’ve had fires out in the Hills there,” Antekeier said. “So it’s a constant thing that we worry about when we live in California.”

The Woolsey fire north of Malibu is around 30 miles from his home, sending smoke and ash all over Los Angeles County.

“I have allergies, so I’m experiencing a terrible time for me, but that's nothing compared to what they're going through,” Antekeier said. “Up there, I have friends who have been displaced, who have been evacuated and lost their homes.”

The Red Cross is only sending volunteers, but has prepared scores of disaster relief kits they expect people will need. The kits vary: some carry toiletries, others hold protective equipment like masks.

Page urged people not just to donate to the disaster relief, but to sign up as volunteers.

“When a disaster comes, we need people to go now,” she said. “Get that training because it’s still a possibility that you could go and help people in California right now.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which aids other states during disasters, has not received a call for help from California officials, said Paul Rogers, a fire prevention specialist at the DNR.

“A lot of the states where they would pull resources from such as Washington and Oregon…they have resources and that are closer that can go currently,” Rogers said. “But if needed, we have crews that can respond.”

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