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Fire evacuees 'worried sick' at Qualcomm

  • Story Highlights
  • Evacuees at San Diego arena treated for nausea, worried about homes
  • Medic: "A lot of people are watching TV here -- watching their homes burn"
  • Navy medics step forward to offer services to some 12,000 wildfire evacuees
  • Medics describe conditions at Qualcomm Stadium as organized, cooperative
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Many among the thousands of evacuees from California's wildfires were suffering from stress and worry about their homes after seeking shelter at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, said a pair of Navy medical volunteers Wednesday.

Navy medics Daniel Brautigam, left, and Jacob Hackfeld volunteered to help wildfire evacuees.

The stadium -- home to the NFL's Chargers -- at one time housed 11,000 evacuees, but that number dropped to 7,500 this morning.

Of the thousands of people who've been sleeping, eating and passing time at the arena, many are showing symptoms of stress, said Petty Officer Daniel Brautigam.

Patients are showing "a lot of smoke-induced nausea," he said. "A lot of people are watching TV while they're here -- they're watching their houses burn."

Brautigam said the word "panic" came to mind to describe how some evacuees were feeling. "But it's not. People are just worried sick. That phrase alone explains it all." Video Watch sailors tell more about treating evacuees »

According to the San Diego's mayor's office, medical staff treated between 70 to 100 people since the stadium opened to evacuees.


He said counselors are being made available to the evacuees at Qualcomm, where volunteers have also been providing food, tents and cots to families and others fleeing the fires.

"We've been working nonstop now for about 48 hours with a few hours of sleep in between -- just enough to get well-rested," said Brautigam.

Brautigam and another sailor, Seaman Jacob Hackfeld, stepped forward on their own to offer medical services after their nearby base was evacuated.

Hackfeld said he was "sitting on my couch watching TV and I'm thinking to myself, why can't we come out here? The community provides for us -- the military. Why can't we give back to them all the things that they've given to us?"

Although both men said they helped in the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, they said the emergency response to both disasters was markedly different. "Here you have complete organization," Brautigam said. "You have a community coming together getting things done, helping people out -- cooperation between civilians, military, everybody. Photo See dramatic photos of the disaster »

"Here everybody comes together, and we're all just people. I think that's the most important thing that's going on right here right now. The main focus is just getting people the help that they need."

About 300 convalescent patients who had been evacuated to Qualcomm from nearby facilities were expected to be returned later Wednesday, said George Biagi, spokesman for the San Diego mayor.

More than 20 fires have scorched 400,000-plus acres from the Mexican border to northern Los Angeles County and inland into the San Bernardino Mountains since the weekend.

Statewide, an estimated 950,000 people have sought refuge from the fires in shelters, hotels and at friends' homes.

The National Weather Service said a red-flag warning for extreme gusty winds was in effect through 3 p.m. PT (6 p.m. ET) Wednesday, but forecasters said firefighters should see an end to the Santa Ana winds that have fueled the fires by Thursday.


Some residents won't have to wait for Thursday to get home. People who evacuated earlier this week from Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch and Del Mar Heights can go home immediately, San Diego emergency spokeswoman Lynda Pfieffer said Wednesday morning.

The blazes have killed one person and injured at least 70 more. Thirty-four firefighters have been hurt, authorities said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Kiran Chetry and Miriam Falco contributed to this report.

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