Category Archives: Kincade Fire (2019)

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.

Sonoma County volunteer Andy Witthohn recognized as Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year

Andy and Betsy Witthohn at a volunteer thank you event in 2018. Photo by Ritch Davidson | American Red Cross

Andy Witthohn has a long history of volunteerism and service work spanning multiple continents, industries, and community needs. Born in Bangor, ME, Andy studied in Nairobi, served in the Peace Corps in Somalia, and taught school – mostly kindergarten – for 20 years in Sonoma County. He finished his professional career advocating for teachers with the California Teachers Association. 

In December 2020, he received the Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year award for his extensive efforts with the American Red Cross during the devastating Kincade Fire in 2019. 

His peers were quick to gush. 

“Not afraid to try new things or take on new challenges, Andy quickly became one of our most steadfast and reliable volunteers in the Napa-Sonoma Territory,” said Angela Hunt, volunteer for the Northern California Coastal Region and presenter of the award. “With his energetic spirit and constant good humor, he made short work of any project he took on, and he’s taken on quite a few. We’re so appreciative for everything he does.” 

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Heeding the call and going all-in

By John Lindner

Regional Volunteer of the Year, Dave Dorman

After speaking with Dave Dorman for 30 minutes, you might wonder if he does anything else outside of the Red Cross. He’s a self-described “semi-full-time volunteer.” This same unwavering dedication earned him the Regional Volunteer of the Year Award.

While he’s officially been a proud Red Cross volunteer since 1984, Dave’s first contact with the Red Cross occurred during water safety instructor and lifeguard training in the 1950s. In the 1970s, he taught first aid and artificial respiration for his employer and discovered his Red Cross calling. He would eventually gravitate to disaster operations, and more specifically, to logistics support: acquiring, organizing, and delivering materials during a disaster. 

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Human connection: the heart of the Red Cross

Debbie Yee, Jane Jennings, and Ellen Armosino at a 2019 Red Cross event | Red Cross photographer: Ritch Davidson.

In 1991, during the Oakland Hills Fire, Jane Jennings had her first interaction with the American Red Cross. “They were running shelters for the county, and as a county worker, I was asked to be involved in the shelter. [My experience] convinced me that when I retired, I wanted to go back with the Red Cross,” says Jennings. Now, almost thirty years later, Jennings has won the Red Cross’s highest volunteer award, the Clara Barton Meritorious Leadership Award.

After retiring from a career filled with case management as a Probation Officer, Jennings found a natural transition, pivoting into a caseworker under the Disaster Action Team (DAT) for the Red Cross. “Now it’s called recovery,” explains Jennings, “but the normal casework is following up on DAT calls. DAT goes out, gives immediate assistance, and within the next day, casework starts following up with the client and writing referrals and assistance…it takes training and developing a comfort level. It’s not a job that’s impossible to do; it’s just, is that the role you’re comfortable doing?” Luckily for the Red Cross, it is a job Jennings has been comfortable performing for twenty years.

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Meet Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year Award Recipient Betsy Witthohn

Betsy Witthohn 420x279From the ashes of wildfires rise everyday heroes. Betsy Witthohn is one of them.

After reaching safety, the fire survivor recounts how time stood still two years ago until mandatory evacuation orders were lifted. Her mind was preoccupied with anxiety as she feared for the worst.

Returning to the area, she found the flames spared her residence. Many nearby were not as fortunate. That experience served as a catalyst to becoming a Red Cross volunteer. Her husband joined, as well.

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Red Cross responds to Kincade Fire

 

smoke_420x279

Smoke from the nearby Kincade Fire mars the California blue sky. Photo by Lindsay Peak, American Red Cross

To see more stories related to the Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire, please go here or see list of stories, below.
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[Updated November 4, 2019] More than 400 Red Cross workers alongside government and community partners are providing shelters, meals, health services, comfort and other support for affected residents.

  • More than 6,500 people stayed in Red Cross and community shelters in Northern California. With the lifting of evacuations orders, all shelters have been closed.
  • With partners, the Red Cross has served more than 51,000 meals and snacks, provided more than 2,500 relief items, and made more than 2,800 individual care contacts.
  • This week, at the Local Assistance Center, affected families can meet one-on-one with trained Red Cross caseworkers who will assess their disaster-caused needs, offer recovery information, help with medication and eyeglass replacement and other emergency needs, and referrals to other agencies. Financial assistance is also available to those whose home was destroyed or had major damage.

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