‘I just can’t thank you enough’

Having returned home after their Glass Fire evacuation, a Santa Rosa couple shares their Red Cross story

By Dave Skutnik


Red Cross disaster worker Leigh Elliott is shown with Ila and Mike Ervin at the Ervin’s Santa Rosa area home following the Glass Fire.

As flames from the dangerous Glass Fire roared toward them, Mike and Ila Ervin — like so many on the night of September 27 — were forced to flee their rural home near the Northern California city of Santa Rosa.

“The sheriff came around and said we had to get out,” recalls Mike. “There was barely any time to even pack anything. We had to go — now.”

Mike took their dog Finley and hopped in his truck. Ila took their two cats and followed right behind in her car. Driving down from their home’s setting in the mountains northeast of the city, the late-evening sky was bright orange.

The incident brought back painful memories of the Tubbs Fire from 2017. The Ervins were evacuated for nearly two weeks during that fire, but thankfully, their home was spared.

This time, the flames were much closer, surrounding their home, which was designed and built by Mike’s brother 30 years ago.

The Ervins spent that first night sleeping in their cars with their animals, as there were no pet-friendly hotels available.

After moving to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, where people were camping to wait out the evacuation, the Ervins were told about an American Red Cross shelter that was open at Sonoma State University.

There, they were able to stay together, with their pets, in one of the private rooms that — because of the pandemic — the Red Cross and Sonoma County were providing.


The area surrounding the Ervins’ home, which is situated near the top left of this photo, is pictured here. Despite everything burning around the couple’s home, firefighters were able to save the structure.

Over the coming days, they learned their home had survived this fire, too. But the property surrounding their home was badly burned and covered in ash.

Ten days later, the Ervins were able to leave the Red Cross’ non-congregate shelter and return home.

“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done,” says Ila Ervin. “I just can’t thank you enough.”

Ila and Mike developed a special bond with two of the Red Cross volunteers helping manage the shelter at Sonoma State University — Ann from North Carolina and Leigh from Tennessee.

“We had so much fun,” adds Mike.

Now the difficult clean-up begins, not only for the Ervins, but for the thousands of people who were evacuated and for the hundreds of people who did lose their homes in the 2020 Glass Fire.

But the American Red Cross will continue to be there to help, providing care and comfort along with recovery assistance. That includes emotional support for this entire community, which — unfortunately — has had more than its share of devastating fires in recent years.


About the author: Dave Skutnik is the Communications Director for the American Red Cross in Philadelphia, PA. He traveled to California to assist the local Red Cross team during its response to the Glass Fire.

For other stories related to the Red Cross’ recent wildfire responses in our region, please go to this site.