While in shelter, couple worried about others’ fire challenges

By Jim Burns

Photo of Sam and Mickie Orchard, inside a Red Cross shelter in Santa Rosa.

Sam and Mickie Orchard are shown inside a Red Cross shelter in Santa Rosa.

Sam and Mickie Orchard had their bags packed on a Sunday night in October, prepared to leave their Santa Rosa home the next day for a vacation in Palm Springs. Instead, shortly after 2 a.m. on that Monday, October 9, the couple took an unplanned trip to a shelter the American Red Cross opened at the Finley Community Center in town.

Receiving a “reverse 911” phone call, Sam, 87, and Mickie, 86, were told to immediately leave their Lake Park Drive home in the Neilson Ranch area of Santa Rosa. Their neighborhood was one of many that emergency personnel evacuated due to the wildfires that cut a destructive path across this part of Northern California that week.

Three days later after receiving their leave-now order, the couple still didn’t know if their house was standing — or reduced to ashes like so many homes in this community. “We don’t know about our home or our possessions inside it,” Mickie said at the time. “The law enforcement people in our area wouldn’t let us get close enough to our street to find out.”

While clearly worried about their own plight, Mickie and Sam found time during their third day at the shelter to express deep concern for their fellow shelter residents. “It’s just heartbreaking for all of these people who have lost their homes,” Mickie said. “We may be with them; we just don’t know.”

And the couple also expressed great admiration for the Red Cross. “My lord, they’ve done everything for us,” Mickie said. “They gave us a place to sleep, food to eat, and even helped us with our prescriptions.

“Everybody here has been so wonderful,” Sam added.

In fact, the couple was already making plans that Wednesday in October to support the organization that had come to their aid — once they sorted out their lives. “If we ever get access to our bank accounts,” Mickie said, “we are going to make a donation to the Red Cross.”