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