Lucerne dad and daughters find comfort at Red Cross Shelter at Twin Pine Casino

By Kathleen Maclay, Red Cross volunteer

When orders came to evacuate Lucerne, a community of 3,000 on the southeastern edges of Clear Lake, Robert Peterson and his two young daughters were ready to skedaddle.

“We had the car packed and all the kids’ stuff loaded,” he said Saturday morning, less than 24 hours after he and his family fled the town he’s called home for eight years. A  resident for a dozen years in this county where some say wildfires “are the new normal,” Peterson said the urgent departure marked his first-ever evacuation.

He devoted much of Friday monitoring the fire in the hills near his home.  The evacuation notice came via a phone alert and the message blasting out to residents via police cruiser bullhorns.

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Robert Peterson is happy to have found beds for himself and his daughters, the Mickey Mouse-clutching 3-year-old Anna to the left, and 2-year-old Aleah on the right. Photo Credit: Kathleen Maclay | American Red Cross

Peterson promptly collected his girls, nearly 4-year-old Anna and 2-year-old Aleah, and headed from the lake. He hoped to find a room at Twin Pine Casino and Hotel in Middletown further south. He had no idea the casino was booked, or that the Red Cross already had a shelter there up and running.

Staff welcomed the Petersons. As his sister found cots for the family, Peterson carried his dozing daughters from their car and laid them down on Red Cross blankets without jarring them awake.

On Saturday morning, the girls chatted with new shelter neighbors and pranced around with Mickey Mouse dolls while their dad monitored them as he had all night long.

“They seem alright,” he said. “When they woke up this morning they kind of looked around like, ‘What is this place?’ But they could see I was right here with them, making sure they’re OK.”

The Lucerne house the Petersons live in was reported to have weathered the fire threat as of Saturday morning, while Peterson’s employer relocated. Peterson said he’s free to take care of his family as needed, and to give his daughters healing hugs.

“I wasn’t always the father I am today,” he said, noting that he’s proud to be on hand and responsible in circumstances that can be trying and traumatizing.

Many at Twin Pine – volunteers and employees alike – count themselves among those responding personally to the volatile fire situation.

Kyle Lewis, marketing director at Twin Pine, said about 20 employees had been affected by the Mendocino Complex Fire as of early Saturday. Some have been evacuated from their homes and some have been able to return safely to their homes as orders to vacate have been lifted. Still, others remained under evacuation orders.

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Twin Pines Shelter Manager John McMahon Photo credit: Virginia Becker | American Red Cross

Twin Pines reserves rooms vacated by guests and makes them available for free to employees and tribal members affected by the evacuations. Some workers are staying in RVs in the casino and hotel parking lot and some may have slept over at the shelter, Lewis said.

Even Twin Pine shelter manager John McMahon of Vacaville was impacted when Friday evacuation orders included Clear Lake Oaks, where he had been staying at a friend’s home when not at the shelter.

Fortunately, he said, he decided Friday morning to take all his belongings with him before leaving Clear Lake Oaks – just in case. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Things change day to day.”