Category Archives: NorCal Fires (2017)

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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‘Go-To Guy’ is the Marin Volunteer of the Year

By Marcia Antipa

Red Cross volunteer Kevin Sagar flexing skills

What does a law enforcement officer do in his spare time? Volunteer to help others, of course. Meet Kevin Sagar, the American Red Cross Volunteer of the Year for Marin County.

Kevin is wrapping up his first year as a police officer with the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, known as the SMART Train.

“The majority of my job is looking for people that are on the train tracks, either oblivious to the trains or trying to hurt themselves. Unfortunately, we can’t be everywhere at the right time, but it is nice when we do get there and spot someone before something happens.”

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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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Leading leaders and finding gems

Laura Hovden, San Mateo Volunteer of the Year

Laura Hovden, of Woodside, CA, recently received the San Mateo Volunteer of the Year Award during the Chapter’s annual volunteer recognition event. A born leader, Laura encourages others to expand their skills and expertise and take on leadership roles of their own. Her flexibility and high aptitude for success have led her to fulfill myriad duties across the organization, including regional and divisional appointments.

Laura took a moment last week to fill us in on her experiences.

Congratulations on the recognition as Volunteer of the Year!

Thank you, I feel so honored.

When did you first get involved with the Red Cross?

I joined when my kids were graduating from high school in 2014. I wanted to have something to do that would be meaningful after they were gone. At the Red Cross, I found all kinds of interesting people and just loved doing this kind of work.

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Providing solutions for the most fragile

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Volunteer of the Year Award recipient Tiffany Deneaux (second from right) with Vincent Valenzuela (left), Alzinia Pailin (second from left), and John Ruiz (right).
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Tiffany Deneaux first volunteered for the Red Cross in 2017 during the Tubbs Fire after her local YMCA in Marin was converted into a shelter for the fire victims. In two short years, she’s deployed several times and stepped into leadership roles. For this commitment and vigor, Tiffany received the 2019 Marin County Volunteer of the Year.

“[During Tubbs,] I worked in the warehouse. I got in with the planning department and got to see them in action…it just kind of caught me,” explains Deneaux. “The people seemed extremely dedicated and seemed very idealistic and very much in support of the community.” 

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