Fire, fear, and a helping hand

By Marcia Antipa

Roxanne, Hunter, Bill, and Vera Corbin

On a hot, windy Thursday in late August, the Corbin family of Morgan Hill got a cellphone alert: an evacuation warning, telling them to get ready to leave their home. Firefighters said the SCU Lightning Complex Fire threatened their community.

Bill Corbin realized the threat was serious.

“The wind was blowing southeast,” says Bill. “If it was to pick up, we would definitely be in danger.”

Bill and his family shuttled their belongings from their house up in the hills to a storage building down in Morgan Hill. After a few days, though, Bill thought the threat might be over. As he began to unpack, his daughter called with news they were being evacuated once more. Bill grabbed what he could and jumped into his car.  

An upbeat man with a ready laugh, Bill now he admits being stunned by the evacuation. “As we were leaving, I was noticing all these cops coming up here, and I was thinking, wow, this is, like real.”

Bill, his wife Vera, and their young adult children, Roxanne and Hunter, checked in at an evacuation center at Sobrato High School. To Bill’s surprise, the American Red Cross arranged to house the family at the Sheraton Milpitas.

Bill says a ‘sweet’ volunteer named Janette checked them in and made sure they had everything they needed, including food and snacks to take up to their room. The family settled in, including their 75-pound black lab, Bella, who took straight to the couch.

“She felt like it was home, so she was ok,” laughs Bill.

Vera had her own scare when Bill told her he had left their house unlocked.

“She goes, ‘I left my wedding ring on the nightstand!’ I go, what did you do that for? You had all this time to evacuate!”

But Bill says his family handled the evacuation well in spite of the fear of losing their home.

“That was stressful for all of us,” he says. “Having the Red Cross there just made things so much better.”

The SCU fire raged through five counties, eventually burning almost 400-thousand acres and destroying 222 structures. But the Corbin family was fortunate. Their community was unscathed, and after a few days, they were allowed to return home.

One week after returning home, Bill received a call from a Red Cross nurse, Rosanne Radziewicsz, checking in to see if there was anything she could do.

“It was just a very caring conversation,” says Bill. “I was just amazed that I was getting the call, to be honest with you. She was doing a follow-up, and…I’m going ‘wow, that’s such a great thing!’”

One footnote: Bill’s wife, Vera, found her wedding ring right where she left it, on the nightstand.

If you’ve been affected by any of the California wildfires and are in need of assistance, please call us 24/7 at 1-800-RedCross (1-800-733-2767) . All assistance is free, thanks to the work of our volunteers and the generosity of our donors.

For more information about the Red Cross response to the SCU Fire (and others) that resulted from the recent lightning storm, please go to our regional blog. You can also find photos in this regional Flickr album.

You too can become a Red Cross volunteer: Please consider getting trained as a Shelter Worker so that you can help us help others during wildfires and other large disasters. For more information and/or to start your application process; just go today to

For other stories related to this disaster response, please go to this site.

Marcia Antipa is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.