August 20, 2021
By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs.
Ruben Garcia, his father Baltzar and mother Maria, longtime residents of Greenville, California, quickly packed their most precious belongings and rushed from their home. Dixie, the second largest wildfire in Californian history, was on the warpath and they were in its way.
“We were scared. They told us to leave and that we were in danger. It was extra hard on my mom,” explained Ruben.
Wildfires are incredibly unpredictable, so when the winds shifted direction, changing the course of the fire, the evacuation order was lifted, and the family was allowed to return home.
“Our home is everything to us, so when we were told we could go back, we were so relieved,” said Ruben.
When another evacuation order forced them to relocate again, the Garcia family took refuge at the American Red Cross Shelter in Quincy, California.
“My mother didn’t want to leave a second time. Both my parents have a hard time getting around and the first evacuation was difficult for them. Mom just didn’t want to do it again,” explained Ruben. “It was hard. We left hoping this wouldn’t be the last time we saw our home.”
Ruben and his family have been in the shelter for about two weeks. Baltzar and Maria both have limited mobility and English is their second language.
“Staying at new places makes them anxious. But both Mom and Dad have felt very comfortable here,” Ruben said.
Everyone is welcome at a Red Cross shelter. The Red Cross does not discriminate based on nationality, race, religious beliefs, class, disability, political opinions, sexual orientation or gender identity. To support individuals like Ruben and his parents during natural disasters, specially trained Red Cross volunteers help assess physical shelters for accessibility. They coordinate any shelter modifications or items that may be needed, ranging from walkers or wheelchairs to sensory kits or interpreters.
Thankfully, the Garcia family home was not destroyed by the fire.
“Our house is still standing. There might be smoke damage but we can go home once it is safe.” Ruben and his parents are grateful. “I didn’t know that the Red Cross could help us like they did. They even got us a ride so we could go to the assistance center.”
Many of the residents at the Quincy shelter require specialized transportation or do not drive. The Red Cross arranged transport to the Local Assistance Center, a centralized location where the Red Cross, local organizations and government agencies provide information and recovery assistance resources. It was here that Ruben and his parents were able to replace lost identification documents and file insurance claims.
This is a heartbreaking situation for families who have lost everything. Trained Red Cross volunteers continue to help them cope as they await news about whether they will have a home to return to or when they can return. Volunteers have already made more than 5,000 contacts providing emotional support, health services and spiritual care for people who’ve been evacuated.
The threat isn’t over. Elevated to critical fire conditions and extreme heat are still spreading across the west and experts say there could be an above normal threat of wildfires through September. The Red Cross will continue to support individuals who have been affected by the devastating wildfires, like Ruben, Baltzar and Maria, until we are no longer needed.