Red Cross was there when she needed it says woman whose home burned in fire

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

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KerryAnn Laufer, who lost her home on Chalk Hill Road in Healdsburg during the Kincade Fire, says she doesn’t know what she would have done without the help of the Red Cross after the fire. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross/Barbara Wood)

KerryAnn Laufer lost her home in the Kincade Fire, but she says her experience with the American Red Cross at the Local Assistance Center in Healdsburg on Nov. 5 helped her when she needed it the most.

“I’m so grateful for the Red Cross. You guys bailed me out when I wasn’t in a good place there,” she said of her visit to the assistance center. She arrived shaken after having seen the long line of people seeking help in the parking lot of the Healdsburg Community Center.

“What has been a big emotional piece of this for me has been the scale of it,” she said. That the fire had left many people in need “was very apparent in the parking lot,” she said. “It rattles me, even more than my personal loss.”

But after Laufer was greeted by a Red Cross volunteer and escorted to a private room where trained caseworkers and mental health professionals were ready to offer their assistance, everything changed.

“That’s what I needed,” she said.

“Part of the hard part is the chaos of all of this,” she said. “Everybody’s in chaos to a degree.”

She said she was grateful for the way the Red Cross had set things up so people who had lost everything didn’t have to wait in long lines to get help, and had a quiet private room to meet in.

“I’m grateful to the Red Cross for their awareness,” Laufer said. The mental health worker who assisted her “was so kind and so patient,” she said.  “She just walked me through” the sign up process and by the end of the conversation had transferred some financial assistance to Laufer’s bank account.

“It let me know things are happening, there are people here who are helping me, they are calm and helping me,” Laufer said of the experience.

“It calmed me down and let me know everything was OK.”

Laufer was evacuated from her home on Chalk Hill Road on Oct. 26. Looking back, she said “I did do some things right and I did do some things — I don’t know if they are wrong — but I wish I’d done them differently.”

“I had a go bag ready,” Laufer said, a lesson she had learned from previous evacuations. This time local officials sent out notice of mandatory evacuations at 10:30 a.m., telling residents they should be gone by 4 p.m.

“They were so organized,” Laufer said. “It was calm and so thorough.”

“I wasn’t in a panicky place at all,” she said. “When I packed, I was packing with this false sense of security,” Laufer said, with the underlying belief that she’d be coming back to an intact home.

“I wasn’t as judicious or as careful about what I chose,” as she might have been if she had believed she might lose her home, Laufer said.  She especially regrets the photographs she left behind and the artworks, both hers and those of friends, that were lost.

“I had room in my car, I could have done it,” she said. “As it turns out, I didn’t.”

“I regret I didn’t use those five and a half hours more wisely,” Laufer said.

Laufer did bring along a few treasures, including a quilt she had handmade for her mother and received back when she passed away, a few pieces of handmade jewelry, three books from her large collection, plus her strong box of important papers.

“I didn’t bring any pictures,” she said. “I feel bad that I lost all of those.”

There were also the things that couldn’t have fit in her car. “I miss my kitchen,” she said. “I love to cook, and my kitchen was set up exactly the way I wanted it – with all the parts and pieces that met my needs and suited me.”

She brought her cat and two Amazon parrots along with her, and although she had left the parrots’ large cages behind, her vet helped her find “a very lovely angel” who gifted the birds with two new cages.

“All three of the pets have handled the changes really well,” she said.

She is now looking for a rental home while she plans her next steps.

Laufer said her visit to the Local Assistance Center, where a wide array of government and community agencies and businesses such as insurance and cleaning companies were gathered, helped her to think more clearly about rebuilding her home.

Visiting some of the agencies at the center, such as the non-profit United Policy Holders, which helps people navigate insurance claims, and the Coffey Strong group of people who lost their homes in the 2017 fires, made her feel supported with “resources that actually apply to me,” Laufer said.

Laufer said although her home was completely destroyed, she still feels lucky. She is staying with friends who had helped her evacuate during previous fires. “I feel fortunate because they live in the one part of Santa Rosa that didn’t evacuate and never lost power,” she said. “I have money in my bank account, I have clothes, I have food. I have all those things, some of those people don’t.”

“We’ll get through it,” she said. “I feel better about that now than I did a few days ago.”

And for the Red Cross, Laufer has a message: “Thank you for being there. I don’t know if I could have hung in there and done it if you guys hadn’t been there.”

Barbara Wood is a volunteer with Public Affairs for the Northern California Coastal Region.