Category Archives: Valley Fire (2015)

A Helping Meal for Working Hands

By Eric Maldonado, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

As Dale Wiley sifts through the remains of his former home in the Pine Summit Estates on Cobb Mountain, he takes a break to eat a hot meal at the community recreation center.

The meals are brought in by dedicated American Red Cross volunteers who travel up and down the mountain several times a day to ensure that residents like Dale have food and water while they continue the enormous task of rebuilding their lives. Dale knows there isn’t a lot left, but he truly appreciates our volunteers’ efforts while he looks for the few remaining items that may be hidden under the ashes.

“The last few days, I’ve eaten better than I have in the last few years,” Dale said with a smile on his face.

He still has pink spots on his clothing from where a DC-10 aircraft dropped flame retardant chemicals near his home as he was preparing to evacuate.

Committed to his friends and neighbors, Dale and his son coordinated to ensure that everyone could take as many necessities with them, until the very last minute. As the flames grew around them, propane tanks started to explode. The scene could only be described as a war zone said Dale, who is a former U.S. Navy sailor. Even though it was time to leave, his son rushed back into the house to salvage his mother’s urn. If Dale is anything, it’s proud of his son.

After evacuating, he spent a few days with friends and eventually made his way to the Red Cross Assistance Center in Clear Lake. He never thought he’d be in a situation where he would need this type of help. “Until you go through something like this, you don’t really get it,” he said.

Dale is committed to rebuilding because Cobb Mountain is his home. He counts himself lucky to have survived. He is grateful for the volunteers who traveled from throughout the country to be here for his community.

“I don’t know where I’d be without all this help,” Dale said.

FAQ: Valley and Butte Wildfire Recovery

Published by American Red Cross

As families re-enter their neighborhoods, many are asking how to stay safe, where to go, and what the next steps are as they map out their road to recovery.

We have gathered some resources to help answer a few of the most commonly asked questions the Red Cross is receiving from those affected by the California Wildfires. The following information has been developed with guidance from CalFire, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Public Health, Calaveras County,  and Lake County, California.

Please note that all Red Cross services are free.


Q: How do I know when it’s safe to return to my property?

A: Do not re-enter your property until fire officials say it’s safe to do so. Check the CalFire website for most recent updates. Keep your skin covered by wearing long pants, sleeves, gloves and masks while sifting through debris to keep ash and any toxic chemicals away. Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots which can flare up without warning.

Q: Is the water safe to drink?

A: Consult your local drinking water provider or check with your county officials to ensure the water is safe to drink. Wash any home-grown fruit or vegetables from trees or gardens before eating.

Q: Can I eat the food that was kept in my refrigerator?

A: If you were evacuated and/or without power, dispose of any food left in your refrigerator. Make sure to sterilize the interior and exterior of your refrigerator and freezer thoroughly before storing food when electricity has been restored to avoid contamination.

Q:  Where do I dispose of garbage if there are no trash facilities in my area?

A: Do NOT dispose of ash or fire debris in dumpsters or garbage bins, as it may contain hazardous waste. Cleaning products, paint, batteries and damaged fuel containers need to be disposed of properly to avoid risk.  Shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums are not recommended to clean up ash. HEPA filter vacuums could be used, if available.  Calaveras County has a debris cleanup effort in place. Lake County is developing a debris plan; please continue to check

Q: How do I protect myself when cleaning up ash?

A: Wear a mask, gloves, long sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid ash contact with skin, as it may cause irritation. If you get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible. Some wet ash can cause chemical burns. Do not use leaf blowers as they will cause ash to disperse in the air.

Q: Is it safe to allow my kids and pets near ash?

A: Keep children and pets away from ash and do not allow them to play near ash pits.  Wash toys thoroughly before children play with them. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn your pets’ paws or hooves.

Q: How do I stay healthy during the recovery and clean up process?

A: Cleaning, sorting and sifting through debris can be strenuous and emotionally taxing. If you experience chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, seek medical care immediately. Some ash may cause chemical burns when it becomes wet on the skin. Make sure to pay close attention to children and the health and emotional impacts your family may be feeling.

Q: Where can I find additional resources on getting disaster recovery assistance?

A:  You can register with the Red Cross for immediate relief needs. To do so, please talk directly with a Red Cross caseworker at a local assistance center, chapter location or call 855-224-2490. Please note that signing in at a Red Cross shelter does not qualify as officially registering for disaster relief assistance.

Those who registered with the American Red Cross for wildfire assistance need to also register separately with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at 800-621-3362. Registering with FEMA is required to be considered for federal assistance, even if you have registered with another disaster relief organization such as the American Red Cross, the state, local officials or churches.  The Red Cross and FEMA are separate entities that treat client information as confidential.

Helping the Helpers: the Power of Community Partners

By Bristel Minsker, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

When Red Cross volunteer Lynda Holm deployed to Middletown, Calif. to help with the wildfire relief effort, she knew little about what she would be doing there, only that she would be working in mass care. When she arrived, she was given an important assignment that would put her leadership skills as a firefighter into action.

“With hotels around the region full, I was charged with opening and managing the shelter for all the Red Cross volunteers who had come to town to help,” Lynda said. She was given the location and contact information for the would-be shelter: the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Middletown.

This was a new role for Lynda, but when she met with the Church leadership to get things set up her nerves as a first-timer were immediately settled.

“They were so warm, and they welcomed us to their facility with open arms,” she said. “Since the moment we met, they have done everything possible to make us feel comfortable.”

One of the Church elders gave Lynda is personal phone number so that she could call anytime if something in the building needed fixing. She was touched that he would be so accommodating. And then, when the elder came by to help with maintenance one afternoon, Lynda found out that his own son had lost everything in the Valley Fire.

“All he asked is that I share with him the stories of our volunteers on the front lines. The church congregation knows that they are playing an important role by helping those of us who are providing direct services to the community, and it helps them to know that they are a part of that.”

When it came time for their weekly service, Lynda began making arrangements to clear the volunteers and cots out of the sanctuary so that the church could hold their regular service. But instead something surprising and heartening happened. They told Lynda that she didn’t need to clear out.

“They said, ‘We’re going to hold our service outside and have a potluck. When we agreed to host the Red Cross here, every member of the church decided that this would be your home as long as you needed it,’” Lynda recalled.

To return to the kind gesture, Lynda immediately called Red Cross logistics to secure a tent so that they would have plenty of shade for their outdoor service and potluck. It was the very least she could do to return their kindness, she said.

Under Lynda’s stewardship, the ongoing partnership with the Seventh-day Adventist Church community—and the many other strong partnerships like it—has been critical to the safety and comfort of the Red Cross volunteers who have left their daily lives behind to come help on the front lines.

Everyone who plays a role in the response, including those who help the helpers—like Lynda and the church elders—are an important part of helping families impacted by the wildfires get back on their feet.

Feeding from the Heart

By Katie Wilkes,volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Eddie Blackmon knows disasters well, but he knows the strength of a community partnership even better. Having managed emergency logistics since 1999, Eddie is a national site manager for the Southern Baptist Kitchen, an organization the Red Cross frequently joins forces with to serve thousands of people every year during disasters.

He helped pen the agreement between the Southern Baptist Kitchen and the Red Cross a few years ago.

“It’s a true blessing when I get out here in the field with you guys,” Eddie said. He’s managed food preparation at Hurricane Sandy, Katrina, and countless other disasters.

Serving 600 meals on a Saturday morning to evacuees of the Valley Fire near Middletown, Eddie emphasized the coordination between the two agencies it takes to keep the massive operation going.

Menus are decided well ahead of time. Meal counts are delivered every morning from the Red Cross. Food cases must be kept constantly at 160 degrees. Volunteers work fast and efficiently to load food onto staging pallets. Meals are packed onto Red Cross emergency response vehicles, then delivered straight to the hands of people in need.

“It means a whole lot to partner with the Red Cross. I’m just glad we can be here to help.”

An Unexpected Hero

By Eric Maldonado, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

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The Rodriguez family hadn’t even finished unpacking their apartment on Barnes Street in Middletown less than a week after they moved in.

On a hot Saturday afternoon, the family’s youngest child Danna didn’t want to take a nap and started to cry. Big sister Pricilla, 13, took Danna for a stroll outside in her little blue push car. But when they stepped outside, Pricilla knew something was very wrong. The sky was dark with what at first looked like rain clouds, but she quickly realized it was something much worse.

Wildfire was surrounding Middletown. Pricilla said, “The smoke was coming over us like a wave and it was raining ashes.”

Pricilla rushed inside and alerted her father Gregorio. In a state of disbelief, Gregorio panicked as he tried to figure out what to do. Unexpectedly, Pricilla began to give out orders and help her family pack their essential belongings. She called her mother Patricia, who was at work, to let her know what was happening.

She grabbed a suitcase and started to fill it with clothes, grabbed important documents and even a gallon of water for later use. She told her father to park their truck backwards so it would be easier to load and to leave if need be. Pricilla’s instincts turned out to be correct, because shortly after, police officers knocked on their door and told them they need to evacuate immediately.

They left to her uncle’s house, who was also packing. That night they made their way to the Napa County Fairgrounds shelter, where they were warmly greeted by Red Cross volunteers. Since then, they have signed up for recovery assistance with the Red Cross and other relief agencies, and they are now staying at the American Red Cross shelter at Twin Pine Casino in Middletown, just a few blocks away from what little remains of their apartment.

“I’ve never been in a situation like this before. I have found nothing but great people. I had no idea how much the Red Cross does. Out of this fright, I’ve seen something beautiful. There’s so much help available to those affected,” Gregorio said.

Pricilla will go back to school on Monday, Sept. 28 when it reopens. Her entire family is proud of her. They call her their hero.

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