Volunteers Convert Agoura Hills School Gym to Shelter

American Red Cross volunteers and Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies decided yesterday to convert the gym at Agoura High School in Agoura Hills into an evacuation shelter. KPCC's Brian Watt spent much of the day there and filed this report.

Watt: By midday, school officials and relief volunteers had begun turning the Agoura High gym into to a place where evacuees could sleep overnight. The first supplies arrived shortly after the workers did.

Lawrence Sachartoff: We have a table full of cases of water and snacks that were donated by the folks at the Malibu Presbyterian Church. I thought it was such a wonderful gesture considering those folks lost their church due to the fire.

Watt: Lawrence Sachartoff has volunteered with L.A. County's Disaster Communications Service for a long time.

Sachartoff: Myself and our cadre of ham radio operators have had, unfortunately, a lot of these to do over the last 14 years. Mostly fires, some landslides. The point being of course, we see people pull together and it really shows you the spirit of people when the chips are down, getting together and helping each other.

[Beeping sound of truck with trailer in reverse]

Watt: Red Cross volunteers backed a trailer toward an entrance to the gym. Inside were 200 cots, blankets, and comfort kits. The crew set up a canteen, nursing and mental health relief areas. As the day went on, Agoura Hills residents stopped by with more food and water and offers to help.

The high school staff projected local TV news onto a big screen in the gym, in case anyone wanted to watch. But for all the preparations, there were no evacuees to take advantage of them ... until shortly before 5:00. That's when 36-year-old Robert Railton showed up with his sleeping bag.

Robert Railton: It was a like train coming at ya. The more it burnt, the longer it went on, the more chaos that was spread.

Watt: Railton lives at his grandfather's house on the beach near Moonshadows restaurant, just south of Topanga Canyon. He found out about the shelter from radio reports, after he'd waited as long as he could to leave his grandfather's property.

Railton: You know, we hung out most of the day, but as the night started to come, you know, and the winds started to pick back up again ... I don't know what's gonna happen before tomorrow.

Watt: By 10:30 last night, Railton was still the only fire evacuee who planned to spend the night in the Agoura High School gym.