Community Spirit Shines Through Wildfire Relief Efforts

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Marcela Freerks points to the Cedar Fire map in the Red Cross Lake Isabella shelter

The smoke grew thick and dark as flames of the Cedar Fire began coming down the side of black mountain towards Marcela Freerks’ home early Saturday morning. Freerks, 68, was having trouble breathing from the smoke when her son encouraged them to leave their home and seek housing at a Red Cross shelter.

In the initial hours of the fire, Freerks and her son prepared and grabbed irreplaceable items including a computer and flash drive full of pictures as well as a painting and small sculpture that had been given to her father.

This is Freerks’ third evacuation in her 10 years living in Silverado Estates. Part of her property was burned by the Way Fire two years ago, which she first reported to the fire department.

“I don’t know what to expect,” says Freerks, “we are not allowed to go see the fire because the flames are about 100 feet from my house, or closer.”

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Debby and Kathryn Patton pose for a picture at the Cedar Fire animal shelter, co-located next to the Red Cross shelter in Lake Isabella

Freerks and her son have been staying at the American Red Cross shelter at the First Baptist Church in Lake Isabella since Sunday. She has found a supportive community among the residents and volunteers at the shelter.

“This community is really stressed and in pain, but I am in a place with people who live close to me that I never knew. Now we share a bond and we have the same kind of present destiny,” says Freerks.

The shelter, one of three currently being operated for the Cedar Fire, is housing roughly 27 evacuees. It is being staffed 24 hours a day by Red Cross volunteers, with support from Salvation Army, County services, and other community partners. Freerks admires the work of all the volunteers and firefighters.

“I have confidence in firefighters to save what can be saved, confidence in the county workers to offer comfort and care, and in Red Cross volunteers with their knowledge, physical support, and empathy,” says Freerks.

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Red Cross volunteer Russ Huge helps a shelter resident with her math homework

Noticing the struggle of others in the shelter, Freerks met her neighbors with compassion and a warm embrace, expressing the importance of how strong each member of this community is. The shelter is full of conversation, community meetings, sharing of meals, and children playing. In this time of tragedy, Freerks remains positive and gives everyone in the room a reason to smile with her infectious attitude.

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The Schilling Family finds relief and comfort in a Red Cross Cedar Fire shelter

“It’s your choice to cry or smile,” mentions Freerks.

The Red Cross has been providing relief and comfort for dozens of residents affected by multiple fires across the Central California Region, including the Cedar, Chimney, Rey, and Bar Fires. There are currently four shelters open supporting families evacuated from the Cedar and Chimney Fires, with additional locations, volunteers, and supplies on standby in the event of additional evacuations.

Cindy Huge & Kate Pifer
Red Cross Volunteers

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