Author Archives: Barbara Wood

Ready for the Next Wildfire: After Multiple Evacuations, Sonoma County Resident Has a Plan

Hecht’s evacuated chickens and Gertie, the family dog, safely stashed in the car.

After twice evacuating her home for days during major wildfires, and living through several more evacuation warnings, you’d better believe Kathryn Hecht has a plan for the upcoming fire season.

The Sonoma County resident is a Red Cross regional communications manager whose job includes informing the public about the best ways to prepare for disasters.

She practices what she preaches.

Near her front door Hecht has stashed pet carriers and a go bag that includes clothing, important papers, emergency supplies, dog and cat food and toiletries. She has planned two driving routes out of her neighborhood, and a foot route in case those two are blocked. She subscribes to her county’s emergency notification system, Nixle, has the Red Cross emergency app on her phone, and follows local sources of emergency information on Twitter. She and her husband have agreed on two emergency meeting points in case one is unavailable.

When an evacuation warning is issued, Hecht parks her car nose out and moves her go bag into her car. She also recommends that you leave your garage door open if you have one (in case a power outage disables the opener).

Hecht — along with her husband, dog, two cats and four chickens — has twice evacuated from her home on the outskirts of Cloverdale in a development nestled into the foothills at the north end of Sonoma County. In September 2016 they moved into the neighborhood, which is in what is called the wildland urban interface, where homes and streets and neat gardens sit near hills covered with flammable vegetation.

Charred vineyards with the Tubbs fire still burning behind them in fall of 2017.

“The day we moved in, there was a fire in those east hills,” Hecht says. That fire didn’t result in an evacuation, but a little more than a year later, on Oct. 8, 2017, the Tubbs Fire struck the North Bay with little warning. “We were evacuated at 3:45 in the morning,” Hecht says. The sheriff passed by with a loudspeaker, warning residents to flee. Hecht was awoken moments earlier by a neighbor who over-rode Hecht’s ‘do not disturb’ cell phone setting by calling repeatedly.

“We had minutes to grab our things and get out,” Hecht says. “We didn’t’ have time to take anything but the clothes on our backs and our animals.” A friend who lived in a safe area of Cloverdale took in Hecht, her husband, 75-pound dog, two cats and four chickens.

Gertie looks at the smoke from the Tubbs Fire in 2017 during the family’s first evacuation, which took place with almost no notice at 3:45 a.m.

“The chickens stayed in the garage, the cats went into the bathroom and the dog went promptly into their bed,” Hecht laughs.

The fire passed by Hecht’s neighborhood and they were allowed to return home a few days later.

By the time the next evacuation took place, for the October 2019 Kincade Fire, a few things had changed, including that Hecht had become a half-time Red Cross communications employee. (She now works full time for the Red Cross in addition to running a small non-profit.) Hecht, and her neighbors, were also way more prepared.

“I think people in this neighborhood were so traumatized, your guard gets up…I kind of feel like we were on edge in general,” Hecht says.  The details from the fire that devastated Paradise and nearby communities in November of 2018 also goaded her.

“It really cemented for me that we had to be prepared in ways that weren’t just about having water and food in the house. We had to be prepared to evacuate this neighborhood on foot,” Hecht says. She added wire cutters to her go bag, in case she needs to go though a fence.

This list shows most of what Kathryn Hecht keeps in the go bag she keeps by her front door in fire season and transfers to her car when an evacuation warning is issued.

“I think it is a comfort to know that I am ready if something happens,” Hecht says.  She keeps a list of what is in the go bag, so even if she’s panicked she knows just what is inside.

Hecht says she’s also prepared for the power to go out. She has a stash of blankets, shelf stable food and water, and some lanterns.

“We have a fireproof safe in our house that we put our marriage license and birth certificates in,” Hecht says. The documents are in a fireproof envelope that she transfers from the safe to the go bag when a warning comes.

Another important thing is to figure out where you’re going to get information in an emergency, Hecht says, and then to make sure that even if phones or electricity go out, there’s still a way to stay informed.

“Look at what you take for granted, and go a step beyond that,” Hecht says.

To show just how seriously Hecht takes the threat of a fire, there’s one more thing she has added to her go bag — a long straw that would allow her and her husband to jump into the pond behind their home and breathe while underwater if they had no time to evacuate.  

Resources:

Organizations Hecht follows on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/RedCrossNorCal https://twitter.com/Sarah_Stierch https://twitter.com/CAL_FIRE https://twitter.com/CALFIRE_PIO https://twitter.com/CALFIRE_LNU https://twitter.com/kentphotos https://twitter.com/NorthBayNews https://twitter.com/NoSoCoFire https://twitter.com/HealdsburgFire https://twitter.com/SoCoFireDist https://twitter.com/KSRO https://twitter.com/sonomasheriff https://twitter.com/CountyofSonoma

Red Cross wildfire tips:

https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/wildfire.html

Pet Safety tips:

https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/pet-disaster-preparedness.html

Be Prepared for Wildfires During COVID-19 tips:

Be_Prepared_for_Wildfires_during_COVID-19_07062020.pdf (redcross.org)

About the author: Barbara Wood is a public affairs volunteer for the Bay Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

11-year-old who alerted her family to a fire is honored as Red Cross hero

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Berlin Gomez-Muniz, 11, received a Red Cross “Hero” medal for alerting her family to a Dec. 19 fire in San Jose. Her mother, Frankie, and Silicon Valley Red Cross chapter board chair Terry Unter look on. Photo: Mark Butler/American Red Cross

Berlin Gomez-Muniz stood quietly as a 3-inch diameter “Hero” medal was draped around her neck at the Jan. 16 Silicon Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross board meeting, but when it was the most important, the 11-year-old says, she yelled so loud her throat hurt after she alerted her extended family to a fire just before Christmas. Read more

Red Cross-installed smoke alarm alerts mobile home residents to fire

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These volunteers were among those installing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in the Sunshadow mobile home park on Feb. 19, 2019, six months before two residents’ lives were saved when the smoke alarms alerted them to a fire. Photo Credit: American Red Cross/Oleksii Nazaruk.
Click here for more photos from the event.

San Jose resident Nguyen Robson had been an American Red Cross volunteer for less than a year when he was called to help two mobile home residents displaced by a fire and received a vivid lesson about his volunteer work’s impact.

When Robson arrived at the Sunshadow mobile home park in San Jose, the two residents — waiting safely outside their home — greeted him with grateful recognition in their native Vietnamese. They remembered Robson as one of the volunteers who had installed smoke alarms and helped them prepare an evacuation plan for their mobile home only six months earlier. The alarm woke them from a mid-afternoon nap and allowed their escape.

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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)
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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.”

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Local Red Cross volunteers help others while evacuated from their own homes

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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American Red Cross volunteers Vince and Robin Dieter worked on logistics and transportation and staffing for the Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire even as they were evacuated from their own home in Windsor by the fire, which came within blocks of their home. Photo credit: American Red Cross

While more than 400 Red Cross workers eventually helped with the response to the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, many local volunteers who were evacuated from their own homes worked tirelessly on an effort that allowed more than 6,500 evacuees to stay in Red Cross and community shelters even while the Red Cross workers were unsure what had happened to their own homes.

Among the many local Red Cross volunteers who had been evacuated were Windsor residents Vince (logistics and transportation) and Robin Dieter (staffing), and Jeff Fleisher (logistics and facilities).

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Former volunteer applies Red Cross lessons to loss of her home to wildfire

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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Former Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteer Jeanne Sternbergh (l) and her husband Jim (r), who lost their home in the Kincade Fire reconnect with old Red Cross friend Cindy Jones at the Local Assistance Center in the Healdsburg Community Center on Nov. 4. See more stories related to the Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire. See photos from this response.

Jeanne Sternbergh spent many years as a Red Cross Disaster Action Team member, responding countless times to help Sonoma County residents displaced by home fires. Now she’s helping herself.

Sternbergh and her husband Jim lost their home off Chalk Hill Road in Healdsburg, California to the Kincade Fire.

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