Edythe’s Story

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Edythe Catalano chats with a Red Cross volunteer at the Kernville Elementary School shelter for the Erskine Fire.

In the aftermath of the Erskine Fire, Edythe Catalano was one of the hundreds of people assisted by the Red Cross after having to evacuate her home.

When the fire initially broke out it quickly spread and consumed dozens of homes in its path. Catalano’s South Lake home was one of hundreds endangered by the blaze, it was her neighbor Tim who stepped in to help.

“He said, ‘the fire is coming this way and you’ve got to get out’ and I said well I’ve got to grab some things and he said, ‘grab your cane and your purse and that’s all you’re taking,’” Catalano said.

After escaping the area threatened by the inferno, Catalano ended up at the Kernville Elementary School Red Cross shelter. A year earlier, Catalano had just moved to her South Lake home from San Pedro to be closer to her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend, who live in Squirrel Valley.

While her daughter’s home was spared in the fire, it was left without power in the blistering heat, making it unfit for 86-year-old Catalano.

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Nurses like these from the Kernville Elementary school shelter help residents like Catalano get critical medications.

During the evacuation, Catalano was forced to leave behind many of her possessions, including her vital medications. Once at the shelter, Red Cross volunteers and medical staff assisted her in getting the medication that she relies on, free of charge.

“The Red Cross has really been good and I couldn’t believe they took care of the co-payments on my prescriptions because that is what worried me because I had my prescriptions at home, but I didn’t have many of them here. I thought oh my god, if I have to make co-payments on all of those at one time and the doctor said, ‘no I am going to go to the pharmacy and pick up all of the stuff for you and there will be no charge,’” Catalano said.

During the days following the evacuation the Red Cross shelter became her home and the volunteers, her extended family. That bond it what led one volunteer to go above and beyond to ensure Catalano was comfortable.

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Edythe shows off her new slippers, obtained for her by a Red Cross volunteer at Kernville Elementary

“So she said, ‘what you need is some slip on slippers’ and I said well I have some at home and she said, ‘well I am going to get you a pair,’” Catalano said.

As a first-time client of the Red Cross, Catalano was impressed with the compassion shown to her by the volunteers and the food.

“I think they do a really good job for all of the people they’re serving,” Catalano said.

While Catalano in unsure of how long it will take for the power to be restored at her daughter’s house so she can move in there, she does know that she will have a place with the Red Cross as long as she needs it. Somewhere she will receive a nice place to sleep, good food, the medications she relies on, and information on services to help her recover from the devastating Erskine Fire.

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“Wonderful. They’ve just gone out of their way to make us as comfortable as possible under the circumstances,” Catalano said.

Cindy Huge and Zach Kramer
Red Cross Volunteers

Read more stories from the Red Cross Erskine Fire response.

Local Red Cross Responds to Multiple Fires in Kern County

IMG_8365The Erskine Fire began of the afternoon of Thursday, June 23, 2016, evacuating thousands of Kern River Valley residents and destroying more than 280 homes. While the Red Cross was providing relief and comfort to the impacted families on Friday, July 1, the Deer Fire broke out in Bear Valley Springs, near the mountain town of Tehachapi. The Red Cross quickly deployed a shelter team to provide shelter to the evacuated residents. These are the stories from the field of those who lost everything and those who responded to help.

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Patrick and Grace Jackson stand outside of the Red Cross Deer Fire shelter in Tehachapi, CA

What is the most important thing to save in a fire? According to fire evacuees Grace and Patrick Jackson the most important thing is to be sure they are both safe. Recent victims of a home fire, the couple were faced with a second challenge when they were shopping at a local grocery store and received a telephone alert to standby for an evacuation due to a wildfire.

They were being alerted to the eruption of the Deer Fire near Bear Valley Springs which began Friday afternoon and has since burned 1,785 acres in the Tehachapi area.

They quickly drove home to retrieve their dog and belongings and were met by fire and law enforcement personnel organizing firefighting efforts in front of their house. With fire quickly advancing towards the back of their home, fire personnel asked them to evacuate immediately.

“We were scared to death,” said Patrick.

Gathering their dog and a few belongings, the couple sped away to spend the next two days with friends, worrying they might not see their home again.

They had just moved back into their home seven weeks ago – after it had been damaged by a home fire that began in their fireplace.

After checking into the American Red Cross shelter on Sunday, they went to church and would be returning later in the day to the shelter for a meal. They noted they had not eaten much in the last 12 hours.

Married for two years, Grace and Patrick emphasized that the most important thing to them was that they were both safe. Patrick stressed that going through two fires and a work related injury was rough, but that everything was going to work out ok.

Sandy Dralle & Cindy Huge
Red Cross Volunteers

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Some residents at the Red Cross Erskine Fire shelter in Kernville, CA sleep outside with their pets

While most people recognize Hawaii as the Aloha State by the friendly attitude of its residents towards visitors, Hawaii State Representative Ryan Yamane took the Aloha Spirit on the road and volunteered to serve as a Disaster Mental Health worker at the Erskine Fire event in Lake Isabella, California. At last count over 280 homes were destroyed, leaving hundreds homeless in this small foothill community.

Prior to serving as chair of the Committee on Land and Water, Ryan worked as a Clinical Director at Hookupono, an outpatient social services program serving at risk youth in Honolulu. With a degree psychology and masters degrees in social work and business administration, Ryan was well equipped to serve as part of the Red Cross Mental Health team that provides emotional support and resources to victims, and staff. Ryan’s engaging smile, quick wit and warm personality make it evident that he is just the right person to help those in need, as well has his constituents back home in Hawaii.

Ryan Yamane looks over a destroyed home in Lake Isabella, CA, one of many wiped out by the Erskine Fire

A Red Cross volunteer since 2006, Ryan was originally scheduled to support efforts for flooding in West Virginia, but was redeployed to California at the last minute. He has previously responded to hurricane events in Hawaii and flooding in Texas. His current assignment could last from ten to fourteen days.

“With physical injury damage to the person is easily seen and treated,” Yamane notes, “but with mental and emotional issues, they are harder to recognize and address. Our role is not to “fix” our clients, but rather to guide them to the resources that will assist in their healing and recovery.” According to Ryan, the Disaster Mental Health worker position requires a person who can listen, empathize and connect with clients without being overcome by the often disastrous circumstances of the event. “As difficult as the job can be, I have seen communities come together and bond, demonstrating tremendous hope and spirit to overcome. It’s really about neighbors helping neighbors, we are here for a limited period of time – it’s their family, friends and neighbors that shoulder the long term responsibility for recovery,” he notes.

When asked about incidents that stand out in his memory as a volunteer, Ryan quickly recounted dealing with a resident during the Texas floods. “It’s pouring rain and there is a guy standing in the fast moving water, at risk of being swept away,” he recalls. “So I ask him, “Hi, so what are you doing in the water? To which he answered that he is looking for crawfish. I did my very best to convince him that was probably not a good choice at that time.”

Thomas Horan
Red Cross Volunteer

An American Flag waves proudly in front of a destroyed South Lake home in Lake Isabella, CA on the Fourth of July

The Red Cross continues to support local families affected by disasters like the Erskine and Deer fires. Learn more about the response efforts here.