Four Heroes and an Unforgettable Bus Ride to Save Their Students

On October 16, 2019, the American Red Cross in Greater New York and Friese Foundation honored Kevin McKay, Mary Petersen Ludwig, Abigail Gerspacher-Davis and Allyn Pierce for their heroic actions in helping students and patients evacuate during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California.

Their story made headlines around the world.

This week, the Gold Country Region is reflecting on the people who were directly affected by the Camp Fire, and the many Red Cross volunteers and staff who worked tirelessly to help them in their recovery.

Paws-itively the purr-fect partners

Furry Friends + Red Cross raise the ruff!

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

When disaster strikes, a furry friend can afford tremendous comfort to a family, and most pet owners do consider their pets to be part of their family. Keeping them together, therefore, necessitates being able to keep owners and pets as close as possible.

For Camp Fire survivors, there was room to shelter their pets immediately across from the men’s and women’s dorms in the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds. While known for sheltering people, the American Red Cross turns to partner agencies to assist with pets.

Operating the temporary shelter and keeping the pets healthy is the responsibility of Furry Friends Pet Relief from Antioch.  Founded by Erin Piña of Oakley, California, Furry Friends began helping in mid-December and took over operation of the shelter on Christmas Eve.

A visiting veterinarian, Dr. Lauren Knobel, has been stopping in and helping set protocols to assure each animal is healthy and up to date on their shots.

Presently, the shelter is still housing over 30 pets, including dogs, cats, and birds. Assisting is shelter manager, Morgan Macy, of Yuba City, who has been here since the shelter first opened. “Thankfully, I can now say that all our dogs are happy and healthy again, and back in general population,” explains Macy.

The shelter is set up in a large A-frame building with dozens of cages of varying sizes. Birds and cats to the left and most dogs to the right. The exceptions are three pups and their mom, just to the left of the reception table.

Stealing the show are the three, fluffy, Alaskan Malamute pups, born on Halloween, shown here with (L-R) Morgan Macy, Grady Grammar and Demetra Poulos.

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If you are a cat person, then you are going to love Dinky, held here by Piña. She’s super friendly, and a crowd favorite.

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The shelter’s hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day and owners are encouraged to spend time with their pets whenever feasible. “If it were me,” says Macy, “I’d be spending as much time as possible with mine. They are suffering just like their owners, and they need to work together as the family members they are.”

If owners can’t walk their dogs daily, one of up to 20 volunteers takes care of walking each animal, three times each day.  Large fenced enclosures enable the dogs to play catch or run freely for exercise.

One owner, Dustin Lee, (R) enjoys playing around with his Pitbull, Hitch. “I got him about a month ago from the local humane society, and we love to horse around together,” says Lee. They enjoy having space outside where Hitch can run free in the enclosure.

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Presently seven AmeriCorps volunteers from San Jose are also assisting Piña and Macy with feeding, watering, walking and cleaning cages. Here every day, the volunteers work from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Shelter residents, as well as Red Cross workers, have been extremely complimentary about the pet shelter, and Furry Friends hopes to work with Red Cross again on future disaster responses that include pet-sheltering operations.

Finding Comfort After Tragedy

It has been an incredibly trying 72 hours for Bonnie Flores, some of the most difficult moments of her life.

“After what happened to me, I never thought I’d laugh again,” she said sitting in a chair near the entrance of an American Red Cross wildfire evacuation center. “But here at this shelter, everyone gives so much love. I’m smiling all the time.”

Three days earlier, Flores received an urgent notice by phone from emergency officials to evacuate her Paradise, CA home immediately due to the imminent danger caused by approaching wildfires. With only time to grab a few personal items and some medications, the 80-year old jumped in her car and drove away.

Surrounded by smoke and fire, she made her way, slowly, through the narrow roads, following thousands of her neighbors fleeing the flames as well.

“I saw a tree explode in front of me, homes on fire,” she said. “I prayed to God to let me live through this.”

Her perilous evacuation to safety took nearly eight hours and ended after finally descending the mountain and finding a safe place where she could call 911 to access emergency assistance. Hours later she would learn that her house of 30 years was one of the nearly 6,500 homes in Paradise destroyed by the fire.

Thankfully, Flores eventually made her way to a Red Cross shelter where she found some comfort.

“When we walked through these doors, people just surrounded us,” she said. “‘How can we help you? What do you need?’ they said. It meant so much to me.”

Since the wildfire started, more than 175 people like Flores have found refuge at an evacuation center at the Butte County Fairgrounds. There, the Red Cross has provided families with warm meals, water, snacks, emotional support and other services. Many more evacuees have stopped by the center during the day for food, supplies and information.

“They sit you down, they hold your hand, they let you get it out,” said Flores about the volunteers helping her. “And that’s what I needed.”

Time to Evacuate? Be Red Cross Ready

As the Red Cross continues to respond to the Camp Fire disaster in Butte County, we want to make sure you have the items you need close at hand should you have to evacuate.

Preparation is important!

Listen to local area radio stations, watch local TV news, and check your city and county websites for the latest wildfire information. Check every 30 minutes to get the latest weather updates and emergency instructions.

Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing your direction of escape.

Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.

Identify nearby shelter sites and review directions to get there.

Keep your pets in one room so you can find them quickly if you have to evacuate.

Keep your indoor air clean. Close windows and doors to prevent the smoke outside from getting in your home.

Stock up on N-95 air respirator masks to help block smoke particles.

Review the Emergency Kit List below to ensure you have everything you need should you have to evacuate your home in an emergency.

Once you build your emergency kit, it can be helpful to keep it in your car so it’s with you when you evacuate.

  • Water: one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
  • Food: non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home).
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Emergency blanket
  • Map(s) of the area

Consider the needs of all family members and add supplies to your kit, as needed.

  • Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Games and activities for children
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Two-way radios
  • Extra set of car keys and house keys
  • Manual can opener

Sunday Camp Fire Shelter Update

Good afternoon, all. Gold Country Communications Director Stephen Walsh writing to you from Bidwell Junior High School in Chico, our newest evacuation shelter for Camp Fire evacuees.

As I type this, Red Cross volunteers are setting up dozens of cots inside the school cafeteria and readying the campus for the arrival of Camp Fire evacuees.

All Red Cross shelters are accepting additional guests except Church of the Nazarene in Oroville. That location is at capacity.

Here is the updated list of our evacuation shelters in Butte County:

Bidwell Junior High School, 2376 North Ave., Chico, CA 95926

Butte County Fairground, 199 East Hazel St., Gridley, CA 95948

Church of the Nazarene, 2238 Monte Vista Ave., Oroville, CA 95966 (FULL)

Neighborhood Church, 2801 Notre Dame Blvd. Chico, CA 95928

Plumas County Fairground, 204 Fairground Rd., Quincy, CA 95971

If you would like to donate to the American Red Cross California Wildfire Relief effort, visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

 

 

Oroville Scouts Ready to Help Despite Camp Fire Anxieties

Boy Scouts from Troop 29 in Oroville arrived at the Oroville Red Cross shelter Saturday ready to pitch in wherever they could help. The enthusiastic scouts moved supplies to storage areas, sorted donations, picked up litter, even occasionally handled babysitting dogs for people at the shelter.

Drew, one of the scouts, said his home is safe, but others in his troop were not so lucky. One family is unsure of the status of its home and some others are in areas at risk. Drew said that he felt good that all of the people at the shelter were getting the help they needed.

Kullen, another scout from Troop 29, said he had spent many restless nights unsure of where the fire would go. He had worked with his family to pack up all their important and precious processions, just in case. But still he worried that they would not have enough room in their two cars for everything they needed.

Though Kullen had his own worries, he was also very concerned about the people he encountered at the shelter. He overheard conversations. “They could not stop talking about the fire. It was very heartbreaking,” he said.

The Red Cross appreciates the assistance and hard work of Oroville Boy Scout Troop 29 and all of the organizations that support the Red Cross.

If you would like to donate to the American Red Cross California Wildfire Relief effort, go to redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.