This Red Cross shelter is just what this trio — and hundreds of others here — have so desperately needed

This is another in a series of stories we are posting on our regional Red Cross blog related to the American Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire disaster:


Jim Armstrong (left), Luke Armstrong, and Cynthia Jackson are grateful for the “open-armed” reception they and others have received at a Red Cross shelter in Petaluma. (Photo: Jim Burns | American Red Cross)

To see more stories related to the Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire, please go here.

It’s fair to say that Jim and Luke Armstrong, a father-son pair who both live in the North Bay community of Sebastopol, have a well-honed habit of looking out for each other. So when mandatory evacuation orders came to their respective neighborhoods in the dark of Sunday morning, they quite naturally left town together in search of alternative housing.

With upwards of 200,000 other people getting similar orders related to the Kincade Fire, the Armstrongs couldn’t find any.

“We checked hotels, B&Bs, everything,” Luke says. “They all filled up so quickly.”

Driving to a safer location, they soon met up with a family friend, Cynthia Jackson from Guerneville, on a street corner in Petaluma. Cynthia was in the same pickle, without a place to stay — and the threesome wondered what they would do next.

Then they heard over the radio that the American Red Cross, working with its county partners, was opening an emergency shelter only a mile or so away.

By the time the trio got to the shelter at the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds, other evacuees had already occupied the 250 Red Cross cots squeezed inside. With the need for space growing by the minute, fairgrounds staff quickly opened up adjacent areas for car and tent camping — making it possible for hundreds of others to have access to the nourishment, supplies, and services available at the shelter.

“We brought tents, so we’ve been fine with this arrangement,” Luke says. “It’s been great having a resource like this shelter that is so open-armed. We have what we have needed here, and they’ve been feeding us very well, which is crazy!”

Like many of the clients at the Red Cross shelter in Petaluma, the Armstrongs left their home during a weekend in which high temperatures reached the 80s. So they were a bit unprepared for nights that have since dipped into the 30s. The temperature swing has made the Red Cross blankets as popular as coffee at this large shelter.

Box load after box load of extra blankets were delivered to the shelter on Monday — and the volunteers were distributing them to eager clients as fast as they would come in. Jim, Luke, and Cynthia were able to get a few — and it made for a good night’s sleep, they each reported over breakfast on Tuesday.

“It’s an example of how all of the people here have been so nice and helpful,” Cynthia says. “What I expected to spend on a hotel I can now send as a donation to the Red Cross!”


You, too, can help people affected by disasters like wildfires and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small.

  • Call, click, or text to give: visit, call 1-800 RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • To donate by check or to a specific cause, please complete the donation form on and print and mail to your local Red Cross chapter.
  • The Red Cross honors donor intent. Donors can designate their donation to relief efforts for the California wildfires by indicating this in the memo line of a check or in the donation form.

Thank you!