By Heath Wakelee, American Red Cross
Each of the tens of thousands of people who have had to evacuate from surging wildfires this past week carries tales of heartache and uncertainty. Many of those people have been assisted with shelter from the American Red Cross and state partners – including approximately 1,500 on Monday night alone – in this still-evolving and historic disaster.
As we continue the response phase in these still-dangerous wildfires across northern California, our volunteer Heath Wakelee followed teams bringing food to families in emergency hotel sheltering to be able to share parts of their journey. Here are two vignettes in a forthcoming series of posts by Heath.
The Baby’s Room
Eugene Kaspari and his wife had spent recent months decorating the room where their first-born would sleep. It was their main concern when it came to their home in beautiful, wooded Berry Creek, Calif.
Outside a hotel where Eugene and his wife have found emergency lodging with the Red Cross, he talked about the pain of what they left behind, in a hurry, as the fire burned their town, as well as what keeps him going.
On the fire, Eugene admitted they didn’t know where they were going to live long-term. He was most worried about the baby’s room, where his wife had been collecting items and where decoration had become a joint act of promise and pride. Those items are lost in the fire that came through Sept. 9 and 10, along with family albums, wedding pictures, and most everything else in the home.
As Red Cross volunteers brought a meal to the expecting couple, Eugene looked to the bright side. He had not lost his job. Their dog seemed to be enjoying the change of pace – this pit bull was eager to lick you as a sign of affection.
Eugene and the Red Cross volunteers talked through meal deliveries and the possibility of replacing eye glasses and prescriptions they left behind as they rushed away from the fire. They reminded him of Red Cross disaster mental health services, too, should they want to talk about coping skills.
What’s Still Standing
Tara Dawn Pash was settling into a nap. She was woken by pounding at the door. It was a neighbor in her Berry Creek neighborhood, yelling for her to “get out,” that “the fire is coming!”
Like so many others, Tara grabbed her jewelry box, threw some clothes in a suitcase, picked up the dog and ran for the car. A few steps later in her evacuation, she was at a hotel provided by the Red Cross.
For the time being, it’s not safe to go back to her neighborhood. As Red Cross volunteers bring Tara and her husband lunch – provided on this day by partners at The Salvation Army – she shares frustration in not being able to go back to her home.
But she counts herself as lucky: of the 12 homes on her street, the fire department has indicated that only a handful remain – including hers. She attributes her good fortune to spending a lot of time and money making a defensible space around her home.
In the future, Tara said she plans on volunteering for the Red Cross to “pay it forward.” She wants to help others realize that there is hope and to become that Red Cross hand that guides them toward recovery.
If your family is in need of assistance from these devastating wildfires, contact the American Red Cross at (800) 733-2767. Additional local for northern California are posted on our Facebook page.