Optimistic evacuee looking on the bright side of life

By Kathleen Maclay, Red Cross volunteer

Lori Rose of Lucerne isn’t one to let life pass her by – whether the nearly 84-year-old is making the most of being a Mendocino Complex Fire evacuee in a Red Cross shelter at Middletown High or zipping along Highway 20 bordering Clear Lake in a motorized scooter with a bright balloon trailing behind her.

To some, Rose’s life may sound challenging. After all, she’s blind in her right eye, she has diabetes, sometimes experiences vertigo and lost her husband to brain cancer in 1993.

But as she recounts being evacuated for the first time, it’s clear that Rose sees the glass as half full.

“I tried to make the best of a bad situation, and to cheer people up,” said Rose, over coffee at the local Subway five days after progress on the Mendocino fire allowed her and other Lucerne residents to go home.

“I want to write a letter to the Red Cross and tell people how wonderful the place was, and how well organized,” she said.


Rose wasn’t surprised when she heard sheriff’s deputies cruising the streets of Lucerne on August 3, a week after the outbreak of the state’s biggest wildfire ever, telling people to leave.

“We knew it was coming,” she said of the residents of her senior housing complex. “We were all packed and ready to go.”

Rose’s apartment manager drove her to the shelter at Middletown High, taking a few essentials such as her walker. They left her scooter behind, rather than load it onto a bus heading to Middletown, knowing that would free seats for other residents to evacuate. They followed the bus in a steady stream of traffic to Middletown.

On arrival, she thought: “I’m here; I might as well make it worthwhile.”

So she did. She talked with shelter volunteers and made new acquaintances from her small town.  Two other evacuees were from her senior complex but were assigned to the nearby Middletown Middle School shelter because they had pets.

Rose spent time working crossword puzzles, “lots of them.” She chatted often with others in the shelter and while sitting outside in the shade, sharing personal stories and Lake County lore.

She appreciated the daily updates by Cal Fire. She loved the food (“The salad was fantastic!”), the blankets emblazoned with the Red Cross logo (“They were wonderful and I slept like a baby.”), and the pets (“I thought the animals were cute. The dogs were all wagging their tails.”).

Rose adjusted quickly to shelter life. “I live in a building with 30 seniors so it’s sort of like one big family,” she said. “Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don’t. I’m used to it.”

She commended the shelter volunteers. “I don’t know how they do their 12-hour shifts. It could be the 11th hour and they were still smiling. I couldn’t do it.”

The volunteers at Middletown High “were beautifully organized,” she said. “We had it made.”

While Rose said she’s ready to evacuate again if necessary, “I’d rather not.”