Tag Archives: Preparedness

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.

Sound the Alarm day of action a success

Red Cross volunteers and community partners

American Red Cross Sound the Alarm Day of Action on May 8 was a success!

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire. That’s why the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region prepared families to act quickly through the Home Fire Campaign.

Joining a national effort to educate 100,000 people about home fire safety this spring, local Red Cross volunteers met virtually with families to review fire safety steps for their household.

On May 8, local first responders, Concord Police Department , CERT Ready volunteers and the Red Cross met with residents of the Clayton Villa Apartments in Concord to go over home fire prevention and safety training. Then everyone gathered in the courtyard for a hands-on demonstration of how to safely use a fire extinguisher. Twenty four apartment homes were made safer thanks to the Sound the Alarm training!

“On average, home fires kill seven people every single day in the U.S.,” said Kerrin Welsh, Regional Preparedness Manager for the American Red Cross. “That is why it is so important for families to have critical preparedness conversations like those offered through Sound the Alarm.”

Silicon Valley Chapter CEO Ken Toren and Councilmember David Cohen

Also on May 8, a signature event took place in District 4 of San Jose, featuring special remarks by Silicon Valley Chapter Executive Director Ken Toren, San Jose Fire Department Fire Captain Bien Doan and San Jose District 4 Councilmember David Cohen.

“Every second counts when there’s a home fire,” said Ken Toren, Executive Director for the Silicon Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross. “As families spend more time at home during the pandemic, it’s critical that we help our neighbors protect themselves from these everyday disasters.”

913 Homes in the Northern California Coastal Region have been made safer by the Red Cross this year; 324 of these homes were made safer in April and May.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR FAMILY SAFE Every second counts when there’s a home fire. Help protect your family against home fires by taking two simple steps: Practice your two-minute escape drill and test your smoke alarms monthly.

  • Create an escape plan with at least two ways to exit every room in your home. Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone knows to meet.
  • Practice your escape plan until everyone in your household can get out in less than two minutes.
  • Place smoke alarms on each level of your home, including inside and outside bedrooms and sleeping areas. Change the batteries at least once a year if your model requires it.
  • Check the manufacturer’s date of your smoke alarms. If they’re 10 years or older, they likely need to be replaced. Follow your alarm’s manufacturer instructions.

This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from regional partners: Pacific Gas and Electric Company, E. & J. Gallo Winery and CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA Insurer. Visit SoundtheAlarm.org for more information.

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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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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Among evacuees, Esalen staffers are grateful for Red Cross

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“The level of coordination and care was outstanding,” Esalen Institute’s Terry Gilbey said of the Red Cross response to the Dolan Fire. (Photo by Jens Wazel)
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Founded in the 1960s in picturesque Big Sur, the Esalen Institute has a well-earned reputation for exploring human consciousness and developing human potential. The center attracts visitors from around the world whose interests in subjects such as personal growth, meditation, massage, yoga, and spirituality are explored less seriously by traditional universities and religions.

Terry Gilbey, the General Manager/CEO, has been with the institute since 2016. Just a year into his tenure, he helped the center stay afloat after landslides and a bridge failure made the facility inaccessible for many months. So the institute — and Terry — has had some practice with disasters. Read more

Celebration to commemoration: Red Cross thanks 2020 Gala supporters

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19, we made the difficult decision to cancel our annual American Red Cross San Francisco Gala event this year to protect the members of our community and guests. Under usual circumstances, the Gala is a moment when we honor both an outstanding corporation and a dedicated individual who have furthered the Red Cross mission in the Bay Area. Our 2020 Red Cross Philanthropic Company of the Year, The Clorox Company, and 2020 Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year, Chief Eric Reinbold of the Paradise Police Department, will be honored at our 2021 event. But we want to take a moment to recognize them now. Read more

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