One Year Later: An Erskine Fire Retrospective

Just before 4:00 p.m. on June 23, 2016, Jim Steel noticed a faint glow out the window of his Squirrel Valley home. He went into his backyard for a closer look, and that’s when Jim first saw the plume of smoke rising from the east side of Cook Peak Mountain. He knew in an instant that the fast moving winds were blowing the flames in their direction.

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June 24, 2016 – the plume from the Erskine Fire billows out over the Kern River Valley, and can be seen from the Red Cross shelter at Kernville Elementary School

What he and everyone else did not know at the time, was that the Erskine Fire would soon become the most destructive wildfire in Kern County history.

The Longest Night

“I called to my wife and told her to get the dog, some dog food and I got some important papers, some water, and my Red Cross go bag. Within another 10 minutes the flames were in my neighborhood,” said Jim.

As a local Red Cross volunteer, Jim knew the chapter would be responding to open a shelter. Even though his own home was risk, he headed for the Lake Isabella Senior Center, where he knew the disaster team would be setting up a shelter to assist evacuated residents.

“On the way down the hill towards Highway 178, I encountered a mass exodus of residents and horses making their way through heavy smoke,” said Jim, “At the bottom of the hill, the field behind the hospital was on fire and the staff was moving the hospital patients out into the parking lot on the opposite side of the hospital from the fire.”

Meanwhile, volunteer Cindy Huge was at her home in Bakersfield, putting the finishing touches on a dinner that she was hosting for friends. That’s when she got the call to respond.

“I quickly packed a bag and told everyone to enjoy their meal,” said Cindy, “Little did I know that I would not return home for 72 hours.” As Cindy and a car full of volunteers drove up the canyon to help, they were awestruck at the site of the glowing mountainside.

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Buildings in Lake Isabella narrowly avoid the flames. Photo: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

“We could hardly speak. We all knew at this very moment that this wildfire was horrific,” said Cindy, “As we drove up to the shelter we could see over a hundred people standing outside waiting to get in. People were just standing there with a look of, ‘what is happening here.’”

In the car with Cindy was Red Cross volunteer Shirley Smith. This was her first wildfire response and she didn’t know quite what to expect. Once they arrived, Shirley was tasked with working the registration table at the entrance.

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A Red Cross volunteer works the registration table at Kernville Elementary. Photo: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

“Wow, suddenly there was an influx of people, coming in so quickly that help was needed at the intake table and we had to recruit the nurse to help,” said Shirley, “She was called away at one point and we ended up have the school secretary helping us.”

“There was so many people at once and so many elderly women who were arriving without their husbands and they – the women – were so scared for their husbands. The men had stayed with the hope of saving their homes. Some did, but some had to flee at the last minute and did lose their homes,” said Shirley, “Stories of pets being left, pictures lost, and general shock was what each person brought to the table. It was surreal but we had to continue to do intake.”

Jim, Cindy, Shirley, and the handful of other volunteers at the Senior Center were in overdrive, frantically setting up cots and organizing the shelter for the displaced residents. But it was short-lived, as the building quickly filled up, and the fire moved directly towards them in Lake Isabella.

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Red Cross volunteers assist a resident at the registration desk in Kernville. Photo: Eddie Zamora

Jim knew that some residents of South Lake were probably congregating at the South Fork Elementary School in Weldon, which had been used as a shelter in the past. He volunteered to go there and open a new shelter if needed. But by then, Highway 178 was closed, and he had to go around the lake by way of Kernville, 25 miles, to reach Weldon. When he arrived, there were about six or seven people sitting on the grass in front of the school. With the cell phone towers already destroyed by the fire, Jim remembered that a nearby relative of his had a landline. He was able to go there and call back to the Senior Center for further instructions.

“It was then that I learned the fire commanders decided they did not want a shelter in Weldon, as it was potentially in the fire path. By the time I got back to the school, there were about 60 people outside on the grass and I had to tell them the only shelter location was going to be in Kernville for now,” said Jim.

That first night, the Kernville Elementary School cafeteria would house well over 125 residents. It quickly became the primary shelter and community center for reconnecting loved ones, meals, health services, comfort, and official briefings.

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Some residents chose to sleep outside with their pets at Kernville Elementary, while Erskine Fire evacuation orders were still in place. Photo: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

“This evening was probably one of the most difficult that I have ever experienced in my life,” said Cindy. She still remembers the harrowing story of a young girl and her cat that were evacuated that night.

“She was clutching her beloved cat. Her grandmother told me that they ran out of their home with only the cat and had jumped into a pickup truck of a neighbor as a fire ball was quickly consuming the other homes on their street. The young girl was silent, so traumatized that she could not speak.”

Cindy dropped everything to sit by the girl and comfort her.

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Dozens of animals are cared for at the Kernville Elementary School shelter, by Kern County Animal Services and the Central California Animal Disaster Team. Photo: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

“I reassured her that the Red Cross was going to give her a safe place to stay for her and her beloved cat. At 3:30 am I found her sound asleep, snuggled next to the cage that her cat was purring in. This precious sight brought tears to my eyes and still does when I think about what this beautiful child went through,” said Cindy.

“The people were in shock. The fire had raced across two valleys in less than an hour,” said Jim, “It was a very difficult night for many people. I had been so busy; I hadn’t had time to reflect on my personal situation but in the quiet hours of the night, the fact that I didn’t know if I had lost my home sunk in. There was no way to talk with my wife.”

It would be three days before Jim would find out that his house had actually survived. It was one of the four homes on his street that had not burned to the ground.

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Kern County Red Cross Spiritual Care volunteer Skeeter meets with a shelter residents, Joan. Photo: Steve Jeter, American Red Cross

The next morning, day two of the fire, brought a bit of comic relief. Four teenage boys decided they would prefer sleeping in the grass outside that night.

“Here they came about 3:00 a.m. wanting new blankets,” said Jim, “The sprinklers had come on and given them a rude awakening.” It was the chuckle that everyone needed after the long and scary night.

A National Disaster

As the operation continued, Red Cross volunteers provided relief, hope, and comfort to hundreds of residents affected by the Erskine Fire. By the time the shelters closed, the Red Cross had served over 11,400 meals and snacks, provided more than 830 overnight shelter stays, and made over 850 health services contacts.

More volunteers poured in from around the country in the days that followed the initial evacuation, from far away as Florida and Hawaii. Shirley was able to transition back to her primary Red Cross role: Spiritual Care. By now, evacuations were starting to lift, and many families were facing the new reality of the fire’s destruction.

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A Red Crosser surveys the Erskine Fire’s destruction. Photo Credit: Steve Jeter, American Red Cross

“The thing that continues to stay with me was the image of an entire community burned out, gone with nothing but twisted metal remains of mobile homes and melted aluminum from car wheels running down driveways,” said Shirley, “As we met these people and tried to offer comfort and hope, the thing that seemed to offer the most comfort was simply a hug. The most amazing thing was later when we would meet up with these people somewhere else they would light up and run and hug us and tell us how much we had helped them.”

Kern Valley Strong

The Red Cross transitioned into a long term recovery phase, providing clean up supplies, referrals, financial assistance, and other resources to families as they began to pick up the pieces. By the end of the operation, volunteers had distributed nearly 17,500 clean up kits and recovery items like shovels, gloves, and buckets. The Red Cross partnered with many community organizations that were also working around the clock to support the residents – groups like the Elks Lodge in Wofford Heights, the Salvation Army, Kern County Animal Control, the Central California Animal Disaster Team, Goodwill, All For One, Victim Relief Ministries, and countless others who served meals, provided clothing, or built sifters by hand.

After all the evacuation orders were lifted, the County hosted a Local Assistance Center, or a LAC, or short. The Red Cross was there along with dozens of other organizations to provide a one-stop-shop for recovery services. Red Cross casework volunteers met one on one with families, determining their needs along with how to best meet them. Counselors and Spiritual Care volunteers like Shirley were on hand to meet the emotional needs of the families facing the disaster.

“Everyone in the community was so great to work with and did everything they could to make things work for the clients and the volunteers,” said Shirley, “The service center that was set up for clients to sign up for assistance was a work of art. It seemed to run so smoothly. There were so many agencies there to assist the clients and people in the community. They truly cared about helping these people and getting them on to the road to a new normal.”

Several days after evacuation orders began to lift, Cindy had an opportunity to tour one of the areas most affected by the fire.

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South Lake resident Miguel explains to Cindy Huge how the flames came over the mountain.

“There are few words to describe the devastation I witnessed. All that was left of over 200 hundred homes were piles of ash and metal, hardly a reminder of the many families who lived there,” said Cindy.

Now, one year after the Erskine Fire devastated the community, these memories are still fresh in the minds of the residents and first responders.

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Volunteer Cindy Huge cradles eight-day-old baby Bentley in a Red Cross shelter during the Erskine Fire.

“The Erskine Fire has had a profound effect on me,” said Jim, “I have moved from having empathy for the clients we serve, to having personal experience regarding their pain. I saw amazing compassion among the volunteers and the evacuees. Everyone was helping one another in any way they could.”

While the scorched hillsides of the Kern River Valley still serve as a reminder of the fire’s destruction, there are signs of renewal and growth. The community is Kern Valley Strong, and more resilient than ever. The Red Cross is honored to be a part of the Erskine Fire community gathering this week on the one year anniversary of the blaze, from 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at Mountain Mesa Park.

“I of course will never forget the experience and never want to repeat it, but is has been rewarding watching my community pull together in recovery and the Red Cross has been a significant part of that,” said Jim, “For that I’m proud to be a Red Crosser.”

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When It Rains It Pours

When it rains it pours, and it has certainly been pouring in California this winter. Massive amounts of rainfall in the Golden State has caused flooding, landslides, sink holes, road closures, power outages, and mass evacuations. All of this has led to a major Red Cross response effort, with volunteers from around the nation pouring into our state to provide relief.

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Last Sunday night nearly 200,000 residents were told that the Oroville Dam Spillway failure was imminent, and they had only an hour to leave home. Within just a few hours, the Red Cross Gold Country Region managed to set up multiple emergency shelters to house thousands of residents fleeing the threat of the dam.

By Monday afternoon, 12 local Central California Red Crossers were on their way to the operational headquarters in Sacramento to help provide relief and comfort. Their support ranged from shelter staff, public information officers, and Emergency Response Vehicle drivers.

California Flooding
Meanwhile, more rain was on the way and all eyes were on the atmospheric river slowly churning over the Pacific Ocean. The Central California Region quickly teamed up with the neighboring regions and Red Cross National Headquarters to formulate a plan for supporting multiple communities that would be impacted by this new storm all at once.

Friday night, our local Red Cross activated five emergency shelters for families looking to avoid the storm’s wrath. Many more shelters were placed on standby just in case. Red Cross volunteers worked through the night, making sure that anyone who needed assistance was supported.

Get Red Cross Ready

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Photo: Marko Kokic, American Red Cross

The winter weather still isn’t over. With more rain on the way, it’s more important than ever to make sure that your family is ready for disasters big and small. There are three simple steps that everyone can take to help make a difference: get a kit, make a plan, be informed.

Follow a few flood safety tips to prepare for and respond to flooding in your area:

  • Keep your car gas tanks full, so that in the event of an evacuation, you can get quickly to safety.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations for possible flood warning and reports of flooding in progress or other critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
  • When a flood or flash flood warning is issued, head for higher ground and stay there.
  • Turn around, don’t drown! If water is flowing above ankle level, stop, turn around, and go another way.
  • Keep children out of the water which can be swift moving or contaminated.

Download the Emergency App
You can download the FREE Red Cross Emergency App to have safety information available on your mobile device, including open shelter locations, emergency weather alerts, and flood safety information. Red Cross apps are available in smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.

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The Red Cross will always be there for our community in times of disaster. But by following a few simple steps to make sure your family is ready, you’re helping us to build a stronger, more resilient Central California – come rain or shine.

Jessica Piffero
Regional Director of Communications

Four Ways to Holiday Safety

139711-holiday-campaign-social_1200x1200_hopeIt was Christmas Eve at my Grandmother’s house. Tummies were full of holiday treats, stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and the family was gathered at the kitchen table playing cards. That’s when my Dad smelled the smoke.

“Is something burning?” he asked. Everyone looked up from their cards with concern and started sniffing the air. It did smell like smoke. Dad got up from his seat and followed the scent into the living room. That’s when we heard him shout, “Get some water!”

Everyone jumped up from their seats and rushed to the living room to see what was causing the distress. There, on the table, was my grandmother’s carefully placed nativity set fully engulfed in flames.

Just days before she had so delicately placed the wooden figurines on a bed of angel hair and thoughtfully surrounded it with candles. But it didn’t take much – just a flame catching the slightest wisp of angel hair – to cause the fire to start.139711-Holiday-Campaign-Social_1200x1200_Shelter.jpg

Thankfully we were all home, awake, and able to quickly put the fire out. There was minimal damage, except for the nativity set itself, and we were able to laugh about it for the rest of the holiday and for years to come. But that’s not the case for many families during the holiday season.

With the holidays comes a whole host of safety hazards that often result in disaster. Last year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, the Red Cross Central California Region responded to help  373 families affected by fires, providing relief and comfort to those that  had lost everything.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can help us reduce that number this year. Here’s how.

Get Red Cross Ready

Following a few Red Cross fire safety tips goes a long way to stopping preventable tragedies. Holiday mishaps can happen to anyone, including you and me. So put the odds in your favor by being extra cautious.

This video shows just how quickly a Christmas tree can go up in flames:

Don’t let this be your home this winter. Place Christmas trees, candles, and other holiday decorations at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.

Always unplug the tree and holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed.

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Smoke alarms save lives. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

Find even more holiday fire safety tips from the Red Cross here.

Be a Social Butterfly

Share your favorite tips with your social networks. Share this blog post on social media along with your own holiday hazard story to illustrate the importance of fire safety. Social media users are far more likely to listen to a plea of safety from their own friends and family. So share the love!

Give With Meaning

Make a donation to your local Red Cross and #GiveWithMeaning this year. Stuck on gift ideas for that person who has everything? A gift to the Red Cross in their honor helps to educate families on the importance of fire safety and installs free smoke alarms in local neighborhoods. Plus it provides your loved one with a unique holiday present that they’ll remember for a lifetime.

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Find out how your gift helps those in need.

Sign up to Help

On January 14, 2017, we’re hosting three different Home Fire Campaign events in Bakersfield, Fresno, and Oxnard. We’re looking for passionate citizens like you to help build stronger communities by installing free smoke alarms. You don’t have to be an existing Red Cross volunteer to help! Visit redcross.org/cencalhfc to sign up and learn more.

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Photo Credit: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

If we all just commit to one of these four opportunities for fire safety, our beautiful Central California community will be a much stronger, more resilient place!

From all of us at the Red Cross, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Jessica Piffero
Regional Director of Communications

A One Year Anniversary, A Devastating Loss, A Treasure Found, And Gratitude

Local volunteer Michele Maki is currently on deployment in Gatlinburg, Tennessee as part of the Red Cross response to the deadly wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands. Here is one of many heartbreaking stories Michele has experienced on her journey so far.

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Red Cross volunteer Michele Maki comforts Gatlinburg resident Brian Myers as he surveys his destroyed property. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

“We bought this home……one year ago-yesterday….. just one year….”, his voice trails off. Brian Myers, young husband and father of two, struggles to maintain his composure after arriving and viewing the ashes of what was once his family’s home.

“It’s gone now….all of it.” Myers pauses a moment, and choking back tears continues, “But we got out. All of us, and we’re safe.”

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Brian Myers walks through what remains of his Gatlinburg home after it was destroyed by wildfire. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

Myers is the general manager of the Mountain Mall in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Five days ago, he had been watching the press conference about the local fire on the television at work.

“It was the afternoon and everything was okay in our neighborhood, but within 30 or 40 minutes, that all changed. I ran home. My wife and I grabbed our kids and pets, piled them into the car and fled. It all happened just so fast!”

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The wildfire destroyed Brian’s Gatlinburg home, melting the slide on his children’s swing-set. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

Myers pauses in his conversation starts walking around the rubble of his property, very slowly, kicking aside charred debris and ashes, then suddenly stops. He stoops down and finds a ceramic mug in the ashes. He wipes the ash away and cradles this treasure as tenderly as if he were holding the most fragile flower. He then looks over to what is left of the swing-set belonging to his 4 year old daughter and 12 year old son. The heat from the fire has melted the plastic slide.

It’s a painful reminder of how he and his family’s lives have changed since that afternoon. The holidays are upon us, and one wonders how this family will cope. But Myers instead, thinks of others in his community and adds, “We got ou and we’re all safe. I’m so thankful for that. But there are folks in worse shape than us, and they need a lot of help right now. Thank you to the American Red Cross and to everyone who’s helping us, truly. Thank you.

Michele Maki
Red Cross Volunteer


Assisting people affected by the wildfires is the latest relief response in what has been a very busy year for the Red Cross, which responded to 15 large disasters across the country this year, 50 percent more than in 2015. More than 24,000 Red Cross disaster volunteers from all over the country provided the following this year:

  • More than 200,000 overnight stays in more than 600 shelters
  • Served more than 3.6 million meals and snacks with the help of partners
  • Distributed more than 1.8 million relief items to people affected by these disasters.

This holiday season you can #GiveWithMeaning to provide relief to people affected by disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, floods and countless other crises by making a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small across the United States. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Deployment Diaries from Hurricane Matthew

 

Central California Regional Communications Director Jessica Piffero is one of thousands of Red Crossers from around the nation that has deployed to the east coast as part of the Hurricane Matthew disaster relief operation. As a Public Affairs supervisor, she is based in South Carolina and leading team of Public Information Officers and storytellers.

 DAY TWO

Day 2 of my Hurricane Matthew deployment has wrapped up.

My first day was spent in headquarters at the North Charleston Red Cross office. I got to know the incredible team I’m working with from all over the nation and meet some incredible volunteers. The size of the operation is indescribably huge. Cots were lined up as far as the eye could see.

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Cots are lined up for cleaning in a parking lot outside of the North Charleston Red Cross office

Today, a volunteer and I traveled to a Red Cross shelter in Beaufort (about two hours south of Charleston) that was housing nearly 300 residents. Volunteers there were doing an amazing job, assisting with everything from filling prescriptions, to playing games with children, to serving hot meals. Everyone genuinely seemed happy and comfortable, despite their circumstances.

Most of the residents in the shelter were from a community called Hilton Head Island. It was one of the last remaining communities under evacuation orders today from the initial impact of the hurricane. When the roads opened at 3:00, my partner and I were there with them as they reentered the island.

From our perspective, many of the houses were luckily saved, even if only by a close call from trees falling just inches away. Downed trees were everywhere, blocking roads, blanketing playgrounds, and resting on roofs. I could only imagine how scary it would have been at night, listening to the snapping of branches all around, the twisting metal creaking, and not knowing if any of it was going to crash through your home.

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Downed trees cover the playground at Hilton Head Island Elementary School

Tomorrow I’m off to Myrtle Beach, where I’ll be leading a team on the ground there. Just because the hurricane has passed, doesn’t mean the danger is over. Many rivers in the area are beginning to crest, and thousands more will be impacted. But our Red Cross volunteers are poised and ready to make sure residents are safe and comfortable.

DAY FOUR

I’ve spent the last two days based at the Red Cross district headquarters in Myrtle Beach. As a supervisor, I’m now leading a team of three incredible volunteers – a great grandmother from Arizona and a couple from the Bay Area. Being a supervisor means I’m spending more time at the Red Cross Emergency Operations Center, coordinating with other leaders and informing the team of communications opportunities in the field.

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District Director Lou Palm leads the morning briefing from the Emergency Operations Center in Myrtle Beach, SC

I did get the chance to travel with an Emergency Response Vehicle this evening as they delivered warm meals to impacted neighborhoods. I was able to see firsthand how devastating this hurricane really was. In many cases, residents were lucky to return home with minimal damage. But the power has been out now for several days, which means spoiled food in the fridge. Many low income families that receive food stamps had just purchased their food for the month when Matthew hit. Now, with no money and no food, these residents say that seeing Red Cross volunteers is the highlight of their day.

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Red Cross Volunteer Linda Joly from Connecticut passes out warm meals to families in Myrtle Beach

Things have slowed here after the initial impact of the storm. But rivers are now rapidly rising, causing new damage and more evacuations. The next couple days are likely to be tough for our team and the community, but I know we’ll get the job done. We always do.

DAY EIGHT

Some stories are harder to tell than others. The journalist in me knows I have a responsibility to my team and the community to tell the story of Hurricane Matthew. But the humanitarian side of me is heartbroken hearing the stories of devastation.

The hardest story to tell so far has been that of the Johnson Family. Crystal and Tim Johnson have experienced three devastating disasters in the last three years. Like countless other South Carolina residents that live near the Wacccamaw River, the Johnsons were caught off guard by Hurricane Matthew. Now floodwaters continue to rise and are seeping into their home, making it unlivable. Almost exactly one year ago, the Johnsons were impacted by the historic 1,000 year flood.

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Conway, South Carolina residents Crystal and Tim Johnson

As if it was not bad enough to endure two consecutive years of flooding, three years ago, in the middle of the night, their home caught fire and burned to the ground. Tragically, Crystal’s father was inside and was killed.

“When my house burned three years ago, a woman from the Red Cross came in the middle of the night to comfort me,” said Crystal, “She stayed with me all night. And now, for each of these floods, I know that the Red Cross is in my neighborhood and will take care of me and my neighbors.”

Mr. Rogers famously once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Looks for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Every day on a major disaster like this one, we come face to face with destruction and heartache. But our volunteers are the bright light in this darkness. They are the helpers, and I am more proud than ever to be a part of this family.

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

Local Red Cross Supports Louisiana Flood Relief Efforts

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Following record flooding in southern Louisiana, George Dalton turned to the Red Cross for shelter for himself and his two grandchildren, including grandson Stephen Rene, 7. Stephen received toys at the shelter. He says that seeing the flooding the first time in his life was scary. Photo by: Marko Kokic/American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is helping thousands of people in Louisiana affected by the devastating flooding there, likely the worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. More than 7,000 people spent Tuesday night in Red Cross and community shelters, and thousands more are without power in hot, humid conditions.

The state has been hit by 6.9 trillion gallons of rain – enough to fill 10.4 million Olympic pools.12092-024.jpg

Several hundred Red Crossers are on the ground in Louisiana now, and by Friday there will be more than 1,000 workers from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 36 volunteers from all over California are responding to provide relief.

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Sharon Butler-Walker is a new Red Cross volunteer, who is inspired to help others because “she loves helping” and she says there’s a great need for volunteers. She brought Glenda Hill to her temporary lodging at the Red Cross shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana. Photo by: Marko Kokic/American Red Cross

The Central California Region is doing its part to support not only Louisiana flood relief efforts, but also wildfire efforts affecting our neighboring regions to the north and south. So far this week we’ve sent a total of eight local volunteers to relief efforts in California and Louisiana. Six volunteers from the Central Valley, Kern, and Ventura chapters are in Louisiana supporting shelter operations, health services, and distribution of recovery supplies. Two volunteers, one each from the Central Valley and Ventura chapters, are supporting the Clayton Fire burning in Lake County.

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Courtney Robinson (center) is nearly certain that her home is destroyed because of the record flooding in southern Louisiana and a levy breaking along Bayou Conway. She’s staying at a Red Cross shelter with her children and husband. Photo by: Marko Kokic/American Red Cross

The Red Cross and its partners in Louisiana have served almost 100,000 meals and snacks since the onset of the flooding. The Red Cross has also mobilized over 60 disaster response vehicles, nearly 40,000 ready-to-eat meals, and dozens of trailers filled with shelter and kitchen supplies to bolster relief efforts.

Initial reports indicate responding to this disaster could cost more than $10 million. People can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word LAFLOODS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recovery from these disasters.