by Winnie Romeril, Red Cross Public Affairs
“I never knew how hard you all work and what goes on behind the scenes. I never knew how bad it could be until I saw the problems with finding hotels for so many people at once and feeding everyone. The average person doesn’t understand all this until you’re on the spot and you say, ‘oh my Lord!’” David Fisher wondered aloud upon seeing the inside of the Oakhurst Community Center where the American Red Cross and Southern Baptist Disaster Response Team volunteers organize meals for hundreds of evacuees from the Creek Fire. “I don’t know what we’d do without the Red Cross.”
Fisher and his wife, both 76 years-old, fled their home of 25 years in North Fork as the fire approached. Fisher is an Air Force veteran who served with the Strategic Air Command and belongs to the Woodland Branch Potawatamis. His wife is Cherokee. Their extended family in the area also evacuated.
“When you’re told you have 15 minutes to get out, you grab what you can’t replace – the photos, the cats,” said Fisher, who walks slowly and with some difficulty from a knee replacement. “I forgot our medicines and had to run upstairs to get them before we drove away.”
What most worried Fisher was making sure his wife and their beloved cats were safe. Since they knew hotels wouldn’t accept cats, the elderly couple decided to sleep in their car to keep the family together. This went on all week until they were exhausted, so they finally approached the Red Cross for help.
“Last night was the first time we actually got a good night’s sleep, we were so wore out,” said Fisher the Sunday morning following their evacuation. His wife of 35 years has asthma and allergies and the air quality was particularly thick with ash, “So she stayed at the hotel where she can breathe and I came to visit our pets.”
“The cats don’t know what’s going on,” says Fisher as he lowered himself slowly, one knee at a time to the cement floor, then got down on his hands and knees to reach inside a cage and stroke an orange tabby. The cats were accepted automatically at the Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT) shelter located alongside the Oakhurst Community Center when the couple registered with the Red Cross. It’s just after noon and this is his second visit today.
“This one is Paws. He’s missing an eye from that raccoon attack but he’s good now. He’s the out-going one. The other is our sweet, shy Dolly,” he explains, giving the calico in the same cage a gentle belly rub. The CCADT volunteers are attentive to keep fresh water and food in all the cages for the 185 animals under their charge.
When Red Cross volunteers learned the Fishers missed breakfast because they slept through the time when meals were brought to their hotel, one of the Southern Baptist volunteers loaded up a box with fresh fruit, snacks, lunches, drinks and utensils and napkins.
“What would we do without the Red Cross?” Fisher said again and again. “Fingers crossed we can go home soon.”