It has been an incredibly trying 72 hours for Bonnie Flores, some of the most difficult moments of her life.
“After what happened to me, I never thought I’d laugh again,” she said sitting in a chair near the entrance of an American Red Cross wildfire evacuation center. “But here at this shelter, everyone gives so much love. I’m smiling all the time.”
Three days earlier, Flores received an urgent notice by phone from emergency officials to evacuate her Paradise, CA home immediately due to the imminent danger caused by approaching wildfires. With only time to grab a few personal items and some medications, the 80-year old jumped in her car and drove away.
Surrounded by smoke and fire, she made her way, slowly, through the narrow roads, following thousands of her neighbors fleeing the flames as well.
“I saw a tree explode in front of me, homes on fire,” she said. “I prayed to God to let me live through this.”
Her perilous evacuation to safety took nearly eight hours and ended after finally descending the mountain and finding a safe place where she could call 911 to access emergency assistance. Hours later she would learn that her house of 30 years was one of the nearly 6,500 homes in Paradise destroyed by the fire.
Thankfully, Flores eventually made her way to a Red Cross shelter where she found some comfort.
“When we walked through these doors, people just surrounded us,” she said. “‘How can we help you? What do you need?’ they said. It meant so much to me.”
Since the wildfire started, more than 175 people like Flores have found refuge at an evacuation center at the Butte County Fairgrounds. There, the Red Cross has provided families with warm meals, water, snacks, emotional support and other services. Many more evacuees have stopped by the center during the day for food, supplies and information.
“They sit you down, they hold your hand, they let you get it out,” said Flores about the volunteers helping her. “And that’s what I needed.”