August 25, 2021
By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs
Sheri Cum-Alarcon is strong. She has needed to be strong her whole life but especially now that wildfires are threatening her home. When asked how she does it, she said, “I reframe the situation in my mind. I make a conscious decision to look for the positive and then I move forward. Sometimes the only way to get through a situation like this is to count your blessings.”
Sheri, her husband Chris, and her mother were evacuated from Happy Valley Ranch last week and have been staying at the American Red Cross shelter at Green Valley Community Church in Placerville, California, for nine days. Sheri is a caretaker for both her husband, who has epilepsy and her mother, who has Alzheimer’s.
“Chris and Mom don’t go out very often and the thought of evacuating them was overwhelming. The Red Cross was able to put Mom in a special area with a medical-grade cot. She is very comfortable.”
Sheri brought the family’s medications but had to leave other critical medical items behind during the evacuation. Red Cross health services volunteers, who are licensed health care professionals, are on hand in Red Cross shelters to help provide or replace medications, supplies and equipment that may have been lost or destroyed during the wildfire. Because of this service, Sheri was able to replace items that both her husband and mother needed.
Many evacuees like Sheri and Chris choose to stay in RVs or tents outside of the shelter to remain close to their pets. They have access to hot meals, restrooms, showers and all other support that evacuees inside the shelters have access to.
“Chris, the dogs and I have a great space outside in the shade. Actually, our whole neighborhood is staying here,” Sheri said.
“Even if the fire doesn’t destroy our house, there will be extensive smoke damage. I’m afraid that I didn’t close a single window before we rushed out. We will probably lose several hundred dollars of food from our freezers,” explained Sheri.
Happy Valley Road, the only way in and out of Sheri’s home, was closed and the power turned off because of the approaching Caldor fire. The house has not been destroyed, but it is in danger. “We are just waiting, waiting, waiting; waiting for good news; waiting for the bad news. Until then, I’m doing what I do at home, here at the shelter,” said Sherri.
The Caldor Fire continues to burn out of control and is threatening the heavily populated Lake Tahoe area. The fire has burned more than 126,000 acres, destroyed 637 homes and businesses, and is threatening nearly 17,000 additional structures. Red Cross disaster workers are helping California Wildfire evacuees find a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support.
Since June, Red Cross has provided more than 9,900 overnight stays for people in need and, with the help of partners, provided tens of thousands of meals and snacks, and distributed over 1,700 relief items including comfort kits, fire kits and other critical supplies.
“Things could seem really dismal right now, but I just keep reframing my reality to remind myself that things aren’t that bad. Happy Valley was our sanctuary and our home. Until we can return there, Green Valley shelter will be our sanctuary.”