Tag Archives: North Bay

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.

Relentless in their help

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire. 
Photo by Brad Zerivitz | American Red Cross

_____

Navy veteran Michael Ocaranza awoke to flames engulfing his apartment. He had just enough time to grab his dog, Sparky, and race out the door as fire licked around his head. Mike ultimately suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns on his forearms and shoulders. He was hospitalized in San Francisco for two weeks.

American Red Cross volunteers and case managers, Betsy Witthohn and Cindy Jones, first contacted Mike during his hospitalization and began to put together resources for his welfare following his stay. After two weeks of care, Mike’s brother Alonzo – also a veteran – transported Mike from the hospital back to Sonoma County.

“I picked Mike up, and we went directly over to the Red Cross office,” said Alonzo. “Betsy met us outside. She had a cash card to give to Mike, some emergency supplies and a little startup money. She was really, really nice from the beginning. Her communication skills blew me away. I had never experienced anyone who put so much effort… and as a volunteer… they were helping me, too.”

Read more

Feeding people for a lifetime

Susan Reese in the field.

American Red Cross volunteer – and recent transplant to Fairfield – Susan Reese always planned to work with the Red Cross when she retired. When Susan finally retired from the restaurant industry last year, she became a volunteer wildfire associate. While working at a Local Assistance Center (LAC) during the North Complex fires in Yuba City, disaster response leadership called for people to join the feeding team. Susan jumped up, and said, “Feeding is what I love doing!” Just like that, Susan’s first deployment brought everything full circle. 

Susan first had contact with the Red Cross in 1997 when she lived in Klamath, California. That year, the Klamath River breeched and flooded the town. Susan says that the entire area “was wiped out.” The Red Cross arrived and began to feed survivors and evacuees by bringing in food from a neighboring city. 

Read more

Celebrating volunteers during Red Cross Month!

Red Cross volunteers always manage to make the best of difficult situations, and social distancing for our 2019 recognition events was no exception.
Photo: Kathryn Hecht | American Red Cross
_____

As the pandemic wears on, research shows that more people want to help those in need. This month, we celebrate this humanitarian spirit during Red Cross Month and ask others to join us.

For almost 80 years, the president of the U.S. has proclaimed March as “Red Cross Month” to honor people giving back through our lifesaving mission — which is powered by more than 90% volunteers. The volunteer superstars from our 2019 recognition events are featured below. May their stories inspire countless others to heed the call.

Read more

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.” 

Read more

‘He is meant to be alive’

THE DRAMATIC STORY OF HOW QUICK ACTION AND TRAINING SAVED THE LIFE OF A YOUNG SANTA ROSA MAN

Six coaches and swimmers from Santa Rosa Junior College have received the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action for their efforts to rescue a student athlete.

by Marcia Antipa

Morgan DeSalvo and teammate Megan Ference. Photo submitted by Megan Ference.

“The last thing I remember is looking up at the ceiling, and then I blacked out.”

On March 5, 2020, Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) student Morgan DeSalvo finished a lap of a swim team workout when a lifelong heart condition finally caught up with him.

Morgan and a few teammates were at the pool wall, catching their breath, when he slipped underwater and sank to the bottom. Swimmer Katie Morrison noticed Morgan underneath her.

“He [wasn’t] moving,” Katie recalls. “He was underwater on his back. His mouth and eyes were open.” She reached under Morgan’s arms and struggled to lift him. Teammate Megan Ference was in the next lane and hurried to help.

Read more
« Older Entries