Families Gather For Support in the Midst of NorCal Fires

Smoke rises from the Eiler Fire and Bald Fire. Photo by Ryan Albaugh
Smoke rises from the Eiler Fire and Bald Fire. Photo by Ryan Albaugh

Written by Red Cross volunteer, Kimberly Hanlon

Some came on a voluntary evacuation and then there are those who arrived after emergency officials came pounding on their front door. On Saturday night, August 2, as the nearby Eiler Fire and Bald Fire spread across the landscape, residents of Johnson Park were evacuated from their homes, having only 15 minutes to gather what personal belongings they could. Neighbors found themselves in a panic as they processed what was a necessity and what memories were worth leaving behind.

Volunteer Chad Coates joins Laurie and Dan Rodriguez as they work to put a puzzle together at the Palo Cedro shelter.
Volunteer Chad Coates joins Laurie and Dan Rodriguez as they work to put a puzzle together at the Palo Cedro shelter.

One family in this predicament was Dan and Laurie Rodriguez. Living in the small town of Burney, California for over ten years, they had never been evacuated. But despite the smoke and the approaching flames, they faced the evacuation with optimism with a sense of acceptance.

“We saw the lighting strikes and were not surprised that a fire was started,” said Dan.

As the fire grew closer and evacuation looking inevitable, both Dan and Laurie moved fast to protect the things that meant the most to them. Laurie gathered the family pets, which included three adorable baby goats and their four dogs.

“We left the doggy door open for the cats and the chickens had to stay behind,” Laurie said.

Dan made sure the trailer and hitch were safe while Laurie grabbed pictures, medications, jewelry and a mini hard drive containing years of family photos. Both were exhausted emotionally and physically after packing, dropping their pets at local vet for boarding, and finally the hour drive to Foothill High School in the town of Palo Cedro. Here the Red Cross had set up an emergency shelter that would serve as their safe haven until the evacuations lifted.

Dan is a cancer survivor who has a smile that never goes away, even when he talks he has a smile. Laurie is a vibrant woman with streaks of purple in her short sassy hair.  Despite the uncertainty of the fires, their kindness shown bright at the shelter. Their laughter was infectious. They even went as far to go and buy several puzzles for the other residents at the shelter and ask if those around them needed anything.

Neither Laurie nor Dan had ever received assistance from the Red Cross and certainly had never needed emergency shelter. The caring and compassion of the volunteers on hand to help their friends and neighbors was more than they ever expected. Both stated “Despite the circumstances that brought us here, the experience has been awesome and we are 100% comfortable here.”

On Tuesday evening, August 6, evacuations were finally lifted and the Rodriguez family was able to safely return to their home in Burney.

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Gold Country Crosswords

The American Red Cross Gold Country Region serves the Sierra-Delta Chapter as well as the Northeastern California Chapter, a total of 24 Counties from Stanislaus to Siskiyou. We are happy to serve the 4.4 million residents in the state.

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