Three generations — and the family dog — get Red Cross help

By Barbara Wood

ARC-RVThree generations of Christil Bell’s family, five people in all, and their pit bull mix Bully had been living in their recreational vehicle in the parking lot of the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa for three days when American Red Cross volunteer Laura Hovden came knocking on their door.

Ms. Hovden, a resident of Woodside, California, who was serving as the manager of a shelter for evacuees from the nearby wildfires, asked Ms. Bell if the family knew about the services being offered in the shelter. Those services included medical care, food, showers, clothing, hygiene supplies, mental health counseling, and even dog food, plus advice about where to get any other needs filled that couldn’t be taken care of at the shelter.

Ms. Bell said the family was stunned — they didn’t know that the Red Cross had opened a shelter in the community center. They had simply been grateful for a place to park the RV while they were evacuated from their neighborhoods.

Red Cross volunteer Roy Pitts also told the family about the services being offered in the shelter: hot showers, flush toilets, food for Bully, and medical assistance for her mother, who had to leave home without some medical supplies.

“They’ve been great,” Ms. Bell said. “They have helped us with everything.” In fact, she said, even though she and her daughter have found out that their homes were destroyed in the fire, they feel things are not all bleak.

“I see my family’s spirits just perking up,” she said. Blessings are “just raining down.”

Part of the reason might be because of additional assistance the Red Cross found for the family, including the effort Roy Pitts (a volunteer in charge of logistics for the shelter) made to find repair help for their ailing RV.

On Saturday, October 15, it was Ray Burgi’s turn to come to the family’s rescue. He was joined by Jim Paine and Dahkotah Wilber, Santa Rosa residents who had been volunteering at the shelter. Mr. Burgi installed a new alternator in the 1988 Ford Jamboree and tuned up several other finicky parts for the family.

Ms. Bell said they are all taking things “one day at a time.”

“We’re starting from scratch,” she said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Her mother, Ritza Russell, said the Red Cross volunteers “are doing a very good job … an outstanding job.”

Christil Bell says their situation is especially challenging because when she, her mother, and her mother’s husband left their home in the early morning hours of October 9, they had no idea they’d never see it again.

Ms. Bell says that when her daughter called her at 3 a.m. to say her Fountaingrove neighborhood of Santa Rosa was being evacuated, she sprang into action. Her mother, who lives with her in the Coffey Lane area of Santa Rosa, insisted on going along, even though she uses a wheelchair.

When they arrived at the Batel Silimon and Stephfan Evans home, they decided to evacuate with the family’s 1988 recreational vehicle. They had to jumpstart it to get it moving, and it kept breaking down as they tried to get away from the wildfires.

Soon after the family was out of the Fountaingrove neighborhood, Ms. Bell says she learned her neighborhood had also been evacuated.

Ms. Bell’s sister and her five children are also displaced from their home and staying in another shelter. There just wasn’t room for them in the RV.


Lori Wilson, Beth Eurotas, and Jim Burns provided editorial support for this story.