Tag Archives: Valley Fire

Lake County Wildfire Anniversary: ‘Unexpected Hero’

This story was originally published September 27, 2015.

By Eric Maldonado, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

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rodriguez-familyThe 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. Read more

A community in it for the long haul — a follow-up on Lake County’s recovery

The CAC Team includes ARC staff and volunteers plus SSCRA staff members Calvin Lee, Indigo Perry, Rebecca Samad, Magdalena Valderrama Hurwitz, and Melanie Garrett.

Starting 40 odd years ago, 300 like-minded members of the Adidam Spiritual Community moved to Lake County to be near the Mountain of Attention Sanctuary, one of the worldwide group’s meditation centers. Varied as their backgrounds were, members of the community shared a common vision of caring for their sacred grounds. Read more

California fires touch Honolulu woman

By Tina Doty, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross (Hawaii)

It was an ordinary trip from Honolulu to our Napa Valley home located on Howell Mountain above a small town named Angwin on Saturday, September 19th. Little did my husband and I know that one of the most destructive wildfires in the area was about to take hold on the other side of the mountain.

I remember looking out my window at the vineyards surrounding our house and noticing the wind had picked up. I got an ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach. By the next morning, my sister-in-law, who lived in Calistoga, called to inform me that many people she knew living in Middletown had lost their homes and beloved pets. Eventually, the number grew to 1,000 homes and over 100 square miles burned.

I hastily made my way to the Red Cross shelter located at the Calistoga fairgrounds to offer my assistance. I was introduced to Pat Morales, a Red Cross Volunteer from the Greater Northern California Chapter, who was amazed I was a Red Cross volunteer from Oahu. He quickly set me up with a Red Cross vest, hat, and t-shirt and put me to work.

As I made my way into the cafeteria, I saw people sitting at tables, some eating, some not, others staring into space, or their heads hung low. One woman was busy nursing her young infant, and children were occupied in a corner with coloring books and related activities. “Gosh”, I thought, “Where do I start?”

I saw people covered in soot, a look of shock, despair, and hopelessness etched upon their faces. Others sat on cots outside with their pets, mostly dogs. Larger animals such as horses and llamas were in a nearby field. Calistoga residents made sure all animals were provided water and food.

I spoke with several people who told horror stories of barely making it out alive with what little belongings or pets they could. Many people only had the clothing on their backs. One man mentioned that he could not start his car because he realized that he was holding his house keys then turned around to see his house burning. He walked out of the area and eventually made it to the shelter. A woman came into the shelter crying and stated, “What do I do now? Everything’s gone!” The Red Cross offered shelter, food, and emotional support.

Other people in the shelter told stories of getting in their vehicles with family members and speeding through fireballs. Many houses were completely destroyed and turned to piles of ash or unrecognizable debris. One woman came up to me at the shelter to tearfully announce that she learned her house was still standing, at least for now. I gave her a big hug.

The residents of Calistoga responded with an outpour of donations which included food, pet food, clothing, and most of all much needed support. Residents from as far away as Marin County responded with various donations including rooms for people and their pets. A notification board was set-up to inform about other resources available.

I realized that that this was my very first large scale community disaster as a Red Cross volunteer. Kudos goes out to the many area fire fighters who are still fighting the blaze. We were lucky that our house was unaffected. Although I was definitely not anticipating this terrible event, I took away from it that even with all the global problems taking place around us, human caring and compassion still rules.

I am very proud to be a Red Cross volunteer.

Saved by the Church Bell

By Taelor Duckworth, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Many folks in the Middletown area know that the United Methodist Church in Middletown was the site of the Red Cross Client Assistance Center for several days. People affected by the Valley fire could go there to find help and resources available from the Red Cross. (It has since moved to the Twin Pine Casino.)

What many don’t know, is that the church has long been a sanctuary for evacuees of any disaster. In fact, in the midst of the Valley fire erupting, the Middletown UMC church bell was used to signal the alarm for townspeople to evacuate.

Evelyn Kerr-Hansen has been a member of the Middletown United Methodist Church since 1998. She currently serves as the food distribution director and oversees the church’s community service projects, her favorite being the Spirit of the Season event where they give turkeys out to families for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Evelyn has been a resident of Cobb since ’98, but says she’s never seen a fire quite like this one. She and her husband, Clay, left their cabin just in time to escape the fire. Evelyn thought it would be a good idea to open the church as she felt that’s where most people would go to find comfort and shelter. As they made their way into town, Evelyn had her keys ready to unlock the food cabinets and open the sanctuary when the church’s pastor, Claudja, called to be sure that she was opening the church. The pastor was stuck in Clear Lake and couldn’t make it across the bridge into Middletown.

As soon as Evelyn got the church doors unlocked, she heard a knock. When she opened them, she expected to find an evacuee. Instead, she found a firefighter telling her she had to leave the church.

“Why? Why would I have to leave the church?” asked Evelyn. “This is where people are going to go to be safe.”

To answer her question, the firefighter asked Evelyn to step outside the church and look back toward the mountain. Evelyn said she saw a wall of angry red flames spilling down the mountain behind the post office. She knew she would have to lock the church up and go.

“Over the years, I’ve heard several times that if anything bad were to happen, you should ring the church bell twelve times to alert the town,” said Evelyn. “For a long, long time, before there were cell phones or computers, that’s how people knew if something happened. Whether it be a child missing or in this case, a fire, you ring the bell twelve times, and people know something is wrong.”

So, that’s just what she did. Evelyn went into the chapel, wrote a short prayer for the prayer tree and proceeded to ring the church’s bell twelve times as fast as she could. From there, she went to help an elderly friend evacuate who lived near the church. On her way to the Red Cross shelter in Calistoga, she checked in on another family before finally putting Middletown in her rearview mirror.

Since returning, Evelyn has been a helping hand at the Red Cross Client Assistance Center. She made sure the volunteers were taken care of and people’s needs were being met. Several volunteers made sure to tell her that many of the people they saw from Middletown told them they wouldn’t have even known about the fire or to evacuate if it hadn’t been for Evelyn ringing the church bell.

After much convincing from Red Crossers, Evelyn eventually signed up for Red Cross assistance for her own home’s damage and says she and her husband will likely look to return to the mountain after repairing their cabin.

“God bless the Red Cross,” said Evelyn. “I have seen big, burly grown men come out of this church with tears streaming down their faces because you’ve been able to help them. Women and children, families and people from all walks of life have been here to give and receive help. It’s really amazing what you all do, and I’m glad I could be here to help the Red Cross, so the Red Cross could help these people.”

Nearly Trapped by the Valley Fire: An Escape Story

By Taelor Duckworth, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Saturday, September 12th, 2015 began much like any other for Terran Compton of Cobb, Calif. He woke up, made his way to the kitchen and began the task of searching for jobs. The 18-year-old has been looking for work in Lake County since he graduated from high school without much luck. He and his 11-year-old brother had the house to themselves because his mother was working at Twin Pine Hotel & Casino where she is a waitress.

In the early afternoon, he realized something wasn’t quite right. He looked out his window and saw thick, dark gray clouds of smoke and a man from his neighborhood running through the streets screaming, “FIRE!” Terran didn’t worry though. There had been several fire calls before, but nothing ever close to their property. He didn’t think it would come toward them.

When Terran’s mother pulled into their driveway at the end of the winding mountain road shortly after, she told him they needed to evacuate. They grabbed only the essentials and loaded them into the car, along with their two dogs.

“It all happened so fast,” said Terran. “We thought we had time. But the fire moved too fast, and we had almost no warning. Being at the end of the road, we were slower than the rest of our neighbors to get out.”

Firefighters came down their road to tell them it was time; they needed to get off the mountain. But as the Comptons quickly made a scan of their house, the Valley fire was burning too fast and too hot to be controlled. By the time they came outside to leave, firefighters told Terran and his family it wasn’t safe to take their car; they needed to get into the fire truck.

The fire had surrounded their property and was moving fast through their neighborhood. Because Terran’s house is at the end of the road, he, his family and the firefighters were all trapped, surrounded by the flames. Firefighters worked to put the flames out around the property while the family huddled in the safety of the fire truck.

For four and a half hours, they watched as their neighborhood burned down around them. The firefighters were working tirelessly, but at times Terran wasn’t sure if they would be able to get out alive.

By 8 p.m., Terran and his family were finally able to escape the neighborhood in their car with clearance from the firefighters. They sped down the mountain as flames licked the sides of the road. After escaping what he describes as a horror movie, Terran’s family went to stay with his grandmother for a few days. When they heard about the Napa County Fairgrounds, where the Red Cross and other organizations were providing help, they headed that way.

In the Red Cross shelter, they found some of their friends and neighbors.

“We really enjoyed staying there and getting to just have fun and try to forget with everyone else,” said Terran.

As news rolled in about the extent of the fire and the damage sustained, Terran’s mother learned that one of their friends—the man who came down the street to warn them about the fire—was one of the fatalities reported.

When evacuation orders were lifted after two weeks, the Comptons were surprised to find out that their home was left untouched. They even had electricity.

“Even without water at our house, it just feels nice to be there, to be home,” Terran said.

Much of their food was ruined, and they still have to boil water, so for now, Terran’s family has been seeking food, water and support from the Red Cross distribution site near their home.

“The Red Cross has been great so far. They’ve been really nice. They’ve been feeding us, giving us supplies and taking care of us. Everything about it has been really awesome, and I couldn’t appreciate it more,” said Terran.

While Terran says he will never forget what he saw that day, he feels they are lucky to have made it and lucky to still have their home. Now, he plans to find work with the clean-up crews on the mountain, so he can play a role in rebuilding his community.

Whole Community Recovery: It takes the whole community to make a community whole.

By Cynthia Shaw, American Red Cross

When a series of devastating wildfires ravaged California, thousands of homes were lost in minutes and many people were suddenly coping with unprecedented challenges. In small towns with a big sense of community, neighbors came together to help one another, mobilizing with great generosity.

Two weeks later, many community groups and agencies big and small are still working together on the relief efforts—distributing truckloads of relief supplies, while also providing food, comfort and shelter to those affected by these disasters.


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In the initial hours of the California Wildfires, working closely with local emergency management, several community groups and the American Red Cross opened a combined total of 12 shelters across California for those impacted by the many wildfires. Petaluma Animal Services and other animal groups have provided care for the evacuated pets and animals at many of the shelters.

These shelters have provided for the immediate needs to evacuated residents, including a safe place to stay, food (meals, snacks), water, medicines and basic health services, emotional support and other support resources. To date, community groups and Red Cross have supported over 11,000 overnight stays for residents affected by the evacuation orders.

Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Brad Smisloff, Jason Pasternack, Andrew Wild, Greg Way, and their “phone list” of Napa Valley wine and food industry contacts served over 36,000 meals at the Napa County Fairgrounds Shelter in Calistoga. Side by side with the Southern Baptist Convention, Salvation Army, and Jackson Rancheria, the Red Cross served over 85,000 meals and snacks.

The difficult recovery from these wildfires makes this a frustrating and emotionally draining time for everyone involved. Napa County, Lake County, Calaveras County, and Red Cross Mental Health and Health professionals have provided over 8,500 basic health and mental health contacts.

Clean clothes were also scarce in the smoky aftermath of the fires and communities were without access to water or power. As dirty laundry piles grew larger, the Southern Baptist Convention brought in the laundry trailer to provide free laundry services and they bought their shower trailer as well.

“When disaster strikes, hundreds of people and businesses step up to the plate to help,” said Jeff Baumgartner, American Red Cross of the California Northwest Chapter Executive. “We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of these businesses, organizations, and individuals who made significant efforts to help people affected by these wildfires.”

Several Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, 7th Day Adventist churches and Methodist churches throughout the Lake and Napa Counties, Redwood Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware as well as the Red Cross, have been gathering and handing out cleaning, hygiene and comfort items in hardest-hit neighborhoods devastated by the Valley fire when the evacuation orders are lifted. These items include water, snacks, non-perishable meals, and clean-up items such as gloves, buckets, trash bags, sifters, and dust masks. To date, over 50,000 relief items have been handed out.

Assistance Centers have been opened where residents can access resources available from many organizations, including Tzu Chi, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, Children’s Disaster Services, Samaritan’s Purse, Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, government departments like unemployment and DMV, PG&E, Red Cross and many others. Red Cross case workers are meeting one-on-one with people on matters such as family reunification, funeral assistance, emergency needs and recovery planning. If the Red Cross is not providing for a specific need, our caseworkers are able to help residents get connected to the partner agency that is meeting that specific need. Nearly 1,200 cases have opened by Red Cross caseworkers to provide individualized recovery support.

Disasters are often complex, with complex needs – and no single agency can meet every need on its own; it takes collaboration and partnership. The Red Cross is one of many agencies coming together to ensure that basic needs are met and to work on the long-term recovery of entire communities and to help them be prepared for and more resilient in the face of future wildfires.

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