By Barbara Wood, Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer
It’s been more than two weeks since Josephine Hernandez and her six children had 30 minutes to pack their car and to evacuate the looming Caldor Fire, but on Sept. 1 as the family awaited news that they could return to their Pollock Pines home, the children joyfully played on a lawn at the Green Valley Church Red Cross shelter in Placerville.
Hernandez and her six children spent the first two nights after their Aug. 17 evacuation sleeping very close together in the family’s Suburban. Then they heard about the shelter that had been opened at the Green Valley Church in Placerville. After a few more nights in the church parking in two borrowed tents, the family was moved into a classroom at the church.
“It’s been terrible,” Hernandez said. “More than a challenge.”
She had just returned from dropping her oldest son, 15-year-old Brayden, off at school when a neighbor told her they had been ordered to get out ahead of the looming fire. The smoke billowing up like thunder clouds in the distance gave the order an ominous reality. They spent 30 minutes loading up mostly clothing into their SUV, grabbed their terrier mix dog, and left, with no clear destination in mind.
After she picked Brayden up from school, with the usual 30-minute drive there taking three times longer in the jam of evacuating traffic, Hernandez said her son convinced her to get permission to return to their home to rescue the family’s electronic devices. Even during the nights the family slept in their SUV, Brayden continued to attend school, Hernandez said. Opening day for the other children’s schools was delayed by the evacuation.
The family is grateful to the Red Cross and the church and other generous community members who have made sure all their needs were met. They’ve been able to pick up clothing, blankets, even shoes for one of the children. In addition to three meals a day, there are ample snacks and drinks available all day.
“I basically came in with only the clothes on my back,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said she believes her family’s home is undamaged because of its location near the Pollock Pines fire station. On Sept. 1, after hearing from El Dorado County Sheriff’s office officials that their neighborhood might soon be reopened, the children joyously played with donated toys, a sprinkler and a kiddie pool on a lawn outside their temporary quarters. Hernandez said the news from the sheriff’s office gave her hope that they could celebrate her youngest child’s second birthday from home on Sept. 9.
“We really want to be home for his birthday,” she said.
Hernandez mused about what they’d do first when they returned home. “First thing, take a real shower,” she smiled. Then, she said, she’d put the kids in the bathtub “letting them soak.”
“If it weren’t for kind people, the Red Cross, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” she said.
To learn more about how the Red Cross is responding to the wildfires and other disasters across the country, and how to help, please visit redcross.org.