A Place to Mourn and Recover

Brandi Cloutier is mourning the loss of her home and her hometown of Paradise after the Camp Fire reduced the small town to rubble and ash. 

20181204_104659Brandi was at home sleeping until she was alerted to the Camp Fire by her dog Boss.  She had only minutes to get out of her home because the next door neighbor’s house was already on fire.  She hopped into one friend’s car but they quickly got gridlocked. Because they were at a standstill the back tire caught on fire from the intense heat and popped.  So they proceeded on foot until another friend picked her up.

She doesn’t remember what time of day it was but everything was pitch black because of all the smoke.  All around her there were explosions every few minutes from propane tanks.  She was petrified; it was like a war zone. Then they got gridlocked again.  They got out of the car to ask people where do we go to get out?  The Sheriff couldn’t even direct them, he just said to run. Finally, the gridlock eased and they were able to get out by driving right through the fire at one point. 

Two images Brandi will never forget was a horse that had run by with its tail on fire and she saw people who were on fire. She is grateful for her life but is mourning the loss of her hometown.

She feels her peace of mind was taken and it will never be the same again. She found herself staying in the Church of Nazarene Red Cross shelter in Oroville at first before coming to Silver Dollar Fairgrounds. 

“The Red Cross has been very kind and supportive. My hometown where I got married, had a child, went to church, worked and had friends. It’s all gone.  They’ve been especially accommodating to my dog Boss. They’ve been really cool with him. They didn’t have to make accommodations but they did so we could be near one another while I figure out what’s next.” 

Story and photo by Vivian Moy, American Red Cross volunteer


Many Hands Make Light Work

VOLUNTEER_Many Hands Make Light Work

The Red Cross is grateful that local volunteers have been coming forward to help those affected by the Camp Fire. With volunteers currently making up 94% of the Red Cross, volunteers are needed and are essential in helping with the recovery process. Help is welcomed and needed, to help those affected by the fire.

Local Red Cross volunteer, Giselle Sutter briefly reflects on her land loss in Paradise but says “it is my honor to help my neighbors.” Giselle volunteers at the Butte County Fairgrounds Shelter and helps incoming volunteers navigate the volunteer process.

VOLUNTEER_Many Hands Make Light Work2

Lauren Fletcher, a local counselor, spoke with shelter staff at the Butte County Fairgrounds Shelter and after learning how to become a Red Cross volunteer, she applied online and is waiting on her background check to get started. When asked what she recommends for anyone interested in helping she says “go to your car and just do it before other things start to come up.”

The Red Cross is proud that a majority of our workforce are volunteers. Local volunteers are essential to not only help but also to remind shelter residents that their community has their back!

For locals interested in helping a local Red Cross shelter, we ask that you sign-up online as an event-based-volunteer (EBV), create a profile and provide information so that a background check can be conducted at https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html.

Story by Amy De La Fuente, American Red Cross volunteer

Photos by Elvia Alaniz and Amy De La Fuente, American Red Cross volunteer 

Conflicting Emotions Are Normal After A Disaster

After the Camp Fire swept through his hometown of Magalia, California, Ken Kupstas wasn’t sure what shape his home was in. He had been out running errands and couldn’t get back into the town.

Firefighters found his dog of 14 years, a Chihuahua named Precious at home, but she was beyond help, so Ken had to do the one thing he didn’t want to do.

“It was hard to give her up, but I didn’t want my little girl to suffer, I really didn’t,” the 82-year-old widower said. “She was my best friend, and I had to do what was best for her.”

VOLUNTEER_mental health1Ken knew his home was there but didn’t how bad it might have been damaged until a friend showed him a video on a smartphone of his neighborhood. He stared intently until he finally saw his home, intact and still standing.

“There it is, there it is,” he said excitedly as he watched outside a Red Cross shelter in Chico where he’s staying. “Oh my, it’s still there.”

Nearby, Holly Cristofaro, a Red Cross mental health counselor at the shelter who had talked to Ken before, heard the news and rushed over to hug him.

VOLUNTEER_mental health2“Oh, what a relief for you,” Holly said to Ken as he fought back the tears and smiled. “This is so nice to hear.”

As they parted, Holly said, “We still want to be here for you.”

Holly, a social worker in Boston, explained that often after people have been through an ordeal like waiting to hear about the fate of their home, the feelings of physical exhaustion start catching with them.

She said while Ken got some good news. Still, he’s like so many others going through the ordeal of loss and not sure about the future.

“You support them and let them tell their story, let them share. It can mean a lot to them to have someone listen to what they’ve gone through,” Holly said.

Those who escaped the wildfire are faced with an array of feelings.

Holly said many are dealing with their initial fears of not surviving and recalling the heat as they fled. Others are feeling bad about having to leave their pets because they only had a few minutes to get to safety and many pets ran away in a panic.

Then there is the feeling of gratitude for being alive, tempered by not knowing what is going to happen next.

Holly said many of those she has talked with have shown so much resiliency and determination to overcome the adversity.

“It’s a good sign of being able to recover,” Holly said.

For Ken, all those feelings have become part of his life, and while the future may be uncertain, he’s ready to face it.

“I believe things will get better, I really do,” he said. “I’ve been a fighter all my life. I’m too ornery to give up.”

To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

Story and photos by Carl Manning, American Red Cross volunteer

A Red Cross Volunteer Earns Her Wings

When Paul Royce, known to the locals as “Turtle,” lost his home in the fire that devastated Paradise, California, he was really was at a loss as to what he would do next.  “I’ve lived in communes, and I’ve lived on the road, but right now, I haven’t a clue as to where I’ll be.  I have absolutely nowhere to go.”

CLIENT_Earns Her Wings1

Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Volunteer, Cynthia Bellina, heard about Turtle’s dilemma at the Red Cross shelter in Chico and knew she had to act. “Turtle needed that little extra care. He’s lived the most interesting and exciting life. In listening to his stories about his life I could understand his need for independence and his zest for life. I just couldn’t say no. I knew I had to help; I just had to!”

Bellina wasted no time. Turtle wanted to relocate to the Grass Valley in California. So, she searched the internet and started making calls. After the sixth phone call, she found a hotel that was willing to help Turtle. Sierra Mountain Inn agreed to provide a month of housing for him, thus providing him with the opportunity for a new start. Turtle’s new home is on the first floor and is wheelchair accessible-just what he needed.

When asked about Bellina’s kindness, Turtle’s eyes filled with tears as he reached out to tenderly touch the volunteer’s shoulder and said, “She was my voice; she was my Angel.”  Indeed, Cynthia Bellina earned her Red Cross Angel Wings.

Photo and Story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross

Chores Take On A New Meaning

Sometimes little, ordinary things can mean a lot. Little things like getting your clothes washed.

Take Debbie Medica. Her home in Paradise, California was destroyed by the wildfire that swept through the area. She fled with little more than the clothes on her back and what few things she could grab as she ran from the house.

“We were told to get out, and we didn’t waste time,” she said. “It was nothing but chaos with the fire coming our way.”

She was able to get her dog Mollie into the car but dealing with her cat Chewy was a whole different matter. She’s finally accepted the fact that her cat probably didn’t make it but she still holds a faint hope that somehow it Chewy survived.

“I know she’s lost, but I keep thinking maybe, just maybe,” Debbie explained. “She freaked with the smell in the air and ran off.”

At the Red Cross shelter in Chico, Debbie sits on her cot, trying to come to terms with what happened.

“I try to stay cool but I do fall apart from time to time especially when small things happen, but I’m not alone. I know that,” she said.

Debbie is trying to keep her sense of humor as she talks about how before the fire she was planning to declutter the home where she had lived a dozen years.

“I was thinking how I needed to get rid of a lot of the stuff. Oh well, be careful what you wish for,” she said.

Chico, California, November 18, 2018: Debbie Medica puts her clothes in a bag so they can be taken to a laundry in Chico, California. Debbie lost her home to the wildfire that destroyed much of Paradise community. At a Red Cross shelter, she was happy to be able to get her clothes cleaned.

As Debbie talked, Red Cross volunteer Kathy Grochowski came up and told her that a local laundry service was offering to clean the clothes of residents and handed her a plastic bag to put her clothes in.

For the first time in a long time, Debbie smiled as she dropped her clothes in the bag, including her favorite jacket.

“It’ll be nice to have it clean it again,” she said. “I’d like to get that smoke smell out.”

Kathy, who’s from Owensboro, Kentucky, said that something as simple as clean clothes can mean a lot to those like Debbie who have suffered so much. Washed and folded, the clothes were returned the next day.

“Anything to make their day a little better and more normal is good for their recovery,” she said. “They’ve been through so much.”

Story and Photos by Carl Manning, American Red Cross volunteer

Local organizations to provide a one-stop safe-haven at Red Cross Shelter

Through successful collaboration between the American Red Cross and five local organizations:  North Valley Animal Disaster Group, University of California Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team, Birch Valley Ranch Equestrian School, Gridley FFA, Chico FFA, County and Yuba-Sutter Amateur Radio Emergency Services, the Butte County Fair Grounds shelter in Gridley, California, has become a safe haven for families, farm animals and those with domestic pets.  The Red Cross continues to support the shelter with volunteers providing food and emotional support. The volunteers have welcomed hundreds of displaced community residents who have no place to go. The shelter, which is located south of the wildfire (Camp Fire), is still open to all those seeking shelter and resources.

PARTNER_Collaboration2The North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) continues taking in livestock and is working with UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team as well as the Birch Valley Ranch Equestrian School to provide the animals with shelter and medical attention. Holly Keller, a former resident of Paradise, brought her two horses to the livestock shelter and is also a volunteer of NVADG. Holly used her experience from the 2008 fire evacuation, to act quickly in evacuating her horses from the recent fire. Holly is very proud of the support that the livestock area of the shelter has received and encouraged anyone seeking to make a donation, to make a financial contribution or to offer grass hay, to call 530-895-0000 to inquire about the supplies needed for the day.


John Madigan, the coordinator of the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT), supports the NVADG by proving medical attention to the animals. Dr. Madigan is grateful for the medical supplies donated. Dr. Madigan urges those with large animals to plan and to not take a chance with their safety.



At the request of the Red Cross and Butte County, the Butte Fair Grounds shelter information desk is being supported by the Yuba-Sutter Amateur Radio Emergency Services. Assistant Emergency Coordinator Neil Bossard “Buck” listens for live reports on the fire and maintains contacts with others radio responders. Buck, a volunteer, recalls being guided out to safety by a radio operator when his car was surrounded in flames in the Butte/Valley fire a few years ago. When asked about his memories of that day, Buck recalled, “I remember everything. I will never forget the volunteers that helped me in my time of need.”



At the Butte County Fair Grounds Shelter, the American Red Cross is honored to work alongside NVADG, UC Davis VERT, Birch Valley Ranch Equestrian School, Californian state volunteers, and the Yuba-Sutter Amateur Radio Emergency Services to offer those fleeing the fire shelter, food, housing, and accommodations for their livestock.


The Red Cross is working hard to continue to partner with local organizations and broaden the resources available to those affect by the recent fire.

Story Written by Amy Fuente, American Red Cross volunteer

Thank You to Our Supporters, part 2

Thankfully, the deadly Camp Fire in California is now 100 percent contained. For nearly three weeks, the American Red Cross has been on the ground providing shelter, food, and comfort to those impacted by these devastating fires.

We want to recognize the following corporate partners for their significant financial support:IMG_5908

  • Citizen Vine
  • McClellan Business Park
  • Red Hawk Casino
  • Sacramento Consolidated Charities
  • Sundt Construction
  • UC Davis

These companies in addition to those previously listed (https://capitalcrosswords.com/2018/11/20/thank-you-to-our-supporters) enable our Red Cross volunteers to continue to walk side-by-side with Californians left reeling from the deadly wildfires, providing safe refuge, meals, health services, spiritual care and compassion throughout the holiday season.

Learn more, and see how you can help: https://www.redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/news/2018/california-wildfires-red-cross-helps-as-thousands-evacuate.html