For five frantic hours, Sonya Butts worried about whether her husband and two youngsters had survived the raging wildfire that swept through Paradise, California and destroyed their home.
She was at work when the evacuation order came to flee the approaching flames. She called husband Orin who told her he was leaving with their two dogs and that her grandmother Yvonne Tranah had her 4-year-old daughter Abby and her 3-year-old son Landyn with her.
That last thing she heard in the phone call with Orin as he pulled out of the driveway was that the house was going up in flames and there was nothing that could be saved.
Sonya, meanwhile, was stuck in traffic and cell service wasn’t working so she couldn’t reach Orin by phone and could only worry. They had agreed to meet at a store parking lot in Chico. After a couple of hours of driving, she arrived, but all she could do was wait for the rest of the family and hope they were safe and well.
Fear raced through her mind like the fire through their home. Questions repeated themselves and wouldn’t stop. Did they make it? Are they all right? Where are they?
“I didn’t know if they got out or not and all I could do was worry. However, it was so awesome when they all got there. It was so relieving,” she recalled as tears filled her eyes retelling the story at a Red Cross shelter in Chico.
The family once reunited arrived at the shelter set up at a school and Sonya said they were overwhelmed by the outstretched arms of welcome they all received from the Red Cross volunteers.
They were able to get fresh clothes that had been donated, a hot meal and a safe place to sleep.
After recalling that terrible day, Sonya gathered Abby and Landyn with her on her cot and read to them as she had before the fire.
“Everything that we need is here, and the most important thing is that we’re are all here together in a safe place,” she said. “You know, after being separated for those hours, being together in a safe place is very comforting.”
Story by Carl Manning, American Red Cross volunteer