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Greenville man heads to California to help fire victims

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Curtis Lee, Red Cross Volunteer, poses for a photo before he leaves for California on Nov. 12, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Greenville man is among six Red Cross volunteers from eastern North Carolina  traveling west to help victims of the Camp Fire in northern California.

Curtis Lee, 72, has been a Red Cross volunteer for three years. 

“I just want to make a difference and be strong for somebody that needs help,” Lee said. “I want the people here to pray that everything goes well.” 

Lee, who is scheduled to fly out of Greenville today for Sacramento, Calif., today, will be working as a mass feeding supervisor.

“We’ll make sure they are fed and give them the personal things they’ll need so we can make them comfortable while they figure out what to do,” Lee said of evacuees. “We hope we can provide some relief for them.”

More than 2,100 people sought refuge Sunday night from the wildfires in 18 Red Cross and community evacuation centers across the state, according to a Red Cross news release.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 280 Red Cross disaster workers were aiding people affected by the Camp Fire, said Brittany Jennings, regional communications officer with the American Red Cross of Eastern North Carolina. The organization has distributed more than 1,470 relief items for people forced from their homes, she said.

Working with partners, the Red Cross also has served more than 12,800 meals and snacks.

Lee said typically churches and local organizations prepare meals that the Red Cross helps distribute.

Lee started volunteering after he retired from his job as a bus operator in Richmond, Va., and returned home to Kinston.

“I was sitting around, I wasn’t doing anything, and getting bored, and I said I have to do something,” Lee said. “I passed a Red Cross chapter one day and saw a sign and I said, ‘Let me stop in and see if I can join and make a difference, and help me get out of the house.’”

He started out helping victims of local house fires find temporary shelter, food and clothing. He’s also worked in Texas, Florida and North Carolina after hurricanes.

When September’s Hurricane Florence hit Kinston, Lee operated a feeding station. He also helped distribute cleaning supplies and clothing after Florence.

The eastern North Carolina chapter is able to send volunteers because it closed its last two shelters in New Bern and Wilmington last week, said Callie Edwards, executive director. Also, the Atlantic Hurricane season is winding down.

“With the Red Cross, we try to deploy as many people locally to a disaster,” Edwards said. The California wildfires require a national response.

The Camp Fire was at 113,000 acres and 25 percent contained as of midday Monday, according to the State of California’s Cal Fire website. More than 6,400 residences and 260 commercial buildings had been destroyed. Another 15,500 structures were threatened.

Lee was contacted Friday about traveling to California and he immediately agreed. He’s spent the last several days preparing for the assignment, which he estimates will be 10-14 days.

“Right now I’m concerned about making sure I have masks handy because there is probably a lot of smoke hanging around in the air,” Lee said.

The Red Cross has deployed enough supplies to shelter as many as 7,000 people, including special equipment to support people with access and functional needs.

The Red Cross also is mobilizing enough relief supplies to serve as many as 15,000 households. Supplies include sifters, personal protective equipment, respiratory masks, rakes, shovels, work gloves, tarps and other resources.

Individuals who want to donate to the Red Cross relief effort can do so by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.