by Winnie Romeril, Red Cross Public Affairs
“We know so many families who have lost their homes and everything they had. Our community was hit hard,” said Thomas Riley, a Mono native of the Big Sandy Rancheria in Auberry, CA. He came down to the front desk to picked up four lunches at one of the nearly 60 hotels where the Red Cross is placing wildfire evacuees. “I don’t know what we, and all of us, would do without the Red Cross.”
Riley is a common name among the Mono people, whose more than 2,000 tribal members live in a nation that spreads out across the Sierra Nevada between Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks. Thomas evacuated with his wife, Rebecca, two daughters, Renee, 12, and Sky, 6, and Thomas’ son and family, together with many relatives and friends.
“It’s been a blessing to have the help from the Red Cross,” Rebecca commented upon arriving from picking up donated fresh fruit at a Fresno church near their hotel. Rebecca is using the hotel wi-fi to continue her virtual classes for her B.A. in business administration at Fresno Pacific University.
Initially, Rebecca and the girls evacuated hurriedly the Friday night before Labor Day without Thomas. He stayed behind until Tuesday because there was no fire suppression equipment yet in their rural part of the Sierra Nevada foothills. There isn’t enough water in the area to wet down their roof or other structures. So he continued working diligently to clear all potentially flammable brush in a large perimeter around their home.
“It was really scary at night, alone, seeing the hills all glowing orange and the fire getting closer,” recalls Thomas.
“The Red Cross has been helping us since we had to evacuate Auberry, as well as our tribe, and basically has supplied everything for us. They are very good at their job and what they do in helping people. Hopefully they can continue with the work they are doing in helping everyone that they can and in the way that they can,” said Thomas. “Just keep giving positivity every time you see one of them, give them a thumbs up and tell them good luck.”
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