Firefighters Lose Vehicles, Equipment in Six Rivers Lightning Complex, Walk Out of Fire Zone and Find Refuge at Red Cross Shelter

By Peg Taylor, Volunteer

It was all hands on deck for firefighters in Humboldt and Trinity counties over the weekend.

Twelve fires began Friday, August 5, sparked by thunderstorms that moved across the region. Due to efforts of firefighters, eight fires remained active, earning the name Six Rivers Lightning Complex.

(When there are two or more wildfires burning close together in the same area, they are often called a complex and attacked by firefighters under a unified command).

Firefighters from hundreds of miles around rolled into the region to help fight the fires. Among them were the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians’ Red Hawk Crew of 19 firefighters. The crew from El Dorado County traveled six hours to report for duty.

The 19 firefighters were on the fire line when the fire took an unexpected run and destroyed their two crew transport vehicles. Fortunately, the vehicles were far from the crew and no one was hurt.

Personal items, food, tents, sleeping bags, as well as equipment and gear needed to continue fighting the fire had been in the transport vehicles and were all destroyed. 

The crew was left with only the clothes on their backs.

They were in the forest with no transportation out and nowhere to stay.

That night, after walking to a U.S. Forestry Service ranger station, the group could only find lodging an hour away but still had no transportation.

When the American Red Cross was made aware of the firefighters’ situation, they reached out to offer the firefighters a safe place to sleep.

Arrangements were quickly made to transport the group to the Red Cross shelter in Willow Creek. 

“I am very proud we were here to be able to assist the firefighters,” said Red Cross shelter manager Angi Irmer. “In a sense, they were also evacuees and lost what personal belongings they had with them. They were so gracious and very thankful for our help.”

Nineteen firefighters who lost equipment and vehicles in the Six Rivers Lightning Complex spent the night at a Red Cross shelter while they waited for transport back home to El Dorado County, Calif.

“The Red Cross really saved our butts and we can’t thank them enough,” said Chris McClendon, Fire Lead of the Red Hawk crew. “We got beds and help as soon as we walked in.

“They set us up in our own little area in a gym and we were able to sleep all night. We were really well taken care of. The next morning, we met some of the evacuees and got to talk to them. They seemed pretty grateful we had traveled so far to help them. That felt pretty good.”

The 19 firefighters were waiting for a bus to take them home to El Dorado County so they could regroup, restock their equipment, replace lost personal items, and get ready to redeploy to the fire, if needed. 

With all that happened to them, they’re ready to go back.

“We go to this neck of the woods multiple times a year,” McClendon said, “So we’re ready to help, if needed.”

‘It’s all about perspective’

By Michelle Hogue, Volunteer

Bob Dunham and Patty Girdner evacuated from Yreka and got acquainted through their stay at the Red Cross shelter in Weed.  Neither had been in a situation of needing to shelter away from home previously, so they had no idea what to expect when they got there.

Bob and Patty both said they have been “blessed and amazed” by the care they have gotten from the Red Cross volunteers. 

Bob, who has lived in Siskiyou County for 44 years, was not in an area of town that was under a mandatory evacuation, but the unpredictability of the situation and his health concerns affected by the smoke brought him to the shelter.

While he was at the shelter, Bob’s dog, Scooter, was being cared for at the Rescue Ranch dog shelter. His growing up as a military dependent and going through earthquake drills when he was a kid in Japan and Hawaii taught him to be prepared always to “go on a moment’s notice.”

Patty was in a similar situation as Bob.  She said she would love to be a volunteer when she gets back on her feet, health-wise.  Patty said she is very grateful for the support she has received at the Red Cross shelter.

“I’ve never seen the over-abundance of giving like this. I want to volunteer and give back.” 

Both Patty and Bob repeatedly expressed how much they appreciated having the shelter available. Both could often be seen trying to help out in some way around the shelter.

Bob said, “I’m happy for what little I’ve been able to do around the shelter.”

“We’re all in the same boat.  Everybody has come together,” said Patty. “We are all helping each other.”

As Bob and Patty talk about their evacuation experiences, they remain hopeful and eager to get back to their homes. They both noted, “It’s all about perspective,” that “choosing to live in Siskiyou County means choosing to live with the possibility of wildfire.”

Bob said, “Everyone encounters disasters. Each area has its own kind of potential disaster. How you get through it is with the relief from the Red Cross and other organizations – the people showing up just to make donations was unbelievable.  To be hands on with the Red Cross…you guys are wonderful. 

“It’s the heart and empathy that makes people want to be Red Cross volunteers and do the amazing things you’re doing here.”

You can support Red Cross disaster relief efforts by making a financial donation at redcross.org/donate.

Shelter Snapshot: ‘Every Single One of You Is So Caring’

Melody Barnett and her son, Chris Tiese, are staying at the American Red Cross evacuation shelter at the Weed Community Center because they were evacuated from their home in Yreka.

Barnett said she did not know how she was going to get out of the massive McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County.

“Everyone in my building was evacuating, and then there was a loud banging on my door,” she said.

 Luckily for Barnett, the maintenance man in her community came to her rescue and took her to the Red Cross shelter.

“The American Red Cross is so great,” Barnett said, nearly in tears. “Every single one of you are so caring.”

Those caregivers are volunteers. There are thousands of them across the United States who give their time and talent to help those in need.

If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Red Cross Turns Compassion Into Action During McKinney Fire

By Judith Lester, Volunteer

The American Red Cross is busy 365 days a year, 24 hours a day turning compassion into action.

When Siskiyou County’s McKinney Fire broke out, the Red Cross was called upon to open an evacuation shelter in Yreka. Within just a few hours, the doors were open.

Once evacuation orders were issued in Yreka, the Red Cross relocated the shelter to the Weed Community Center.

Barbara Leper and her husband are guests at the Red Cross shelter in Weed.

Barbara Leper, 78, and her husband are at the shelter in Weed because they are once again under the threat of losing everything all over again. “Last year we had to run for our lives when our home in Happy Camp burned to the ground in just a few minutes,” Leper said.

The Lepers have lived in beautiful Siskiyou County for nearly 30 years. Regardless of the continuum of wildfires, they are planning to stay put in the Weed community. “We just love it here, it’s our home,” Leper said.

The Red Cross was there for the Lepers last year. Leper shared how the Red Cross helped them along with temporary housing and the essential items they needed.

“The Red Cross kept helping us along the way,” Leper said. “We received another $500 gift certificate in December for food and gas.”

Consider supporting Red Cross disaster relief efforts by visiting redcross.org/donate.

Stronger Together: Thanks for the great meals, Salvation Army

Strong relationships with community partners are pivotal in caring for those who need assistance during a disaster. Volunteers from the Salvation Army in Redding have been serving up great meals to dozens of McKinney Fire evacuees. Pictured are Joy Wegner (top left), Teri Lewis (top right), Dorinda Cox (bottom left), and Steven Brooks (bottom right).

Snapshot: Support is Strong Among McKinney Fire Evacuees

McKinney Fire evacuees Harlene (left) and Burt (right) hanging out in the women’s quarters at the Weed, CA shelter. Sharing stories and encouragement, both said they are grateful for the shelter. Harlene lost everything in the fire. Burt evacuated as a precaution.

All Are Welcome at a Red Cross Shelter… Even If It’s Just For Lunch

By Steve Walsh

Jesus Soberano, his wife, Chantel, and their two children pulled up at the Red Cross shelter in Weed, Calif., days after evacuating their Fort Jones home during the McKinney Fire.

The family was staying at a nearby hotel but Jesus said it’s getting expensive.

Chantel said she will likely need a heart transplant soon and that being outside, breathing the smoky air was less than ideal.

The Soberanos went inside the shelter to see what assistance the Red Cross could provide.

Minutes later, the family emerged with comfort kits full of toiletries and a tiny Red Cross teddy bear for Shasta, the youngest.

“This is great,” Jesus said, watching his daughter clutch her new furry friend. “Thank you.”

A Red Cross volunteer reminded the family that they don’t have to stay at the shelter to receive help. Should they need it, snacks, meals, drinks and even a little neighborly conversation are available anytime.

If you are looking for an evacuation shelter, visit redcross.org/shelters.

Electra Fire: Up Next… Distribution of Emergency Supplies

Red Cross volunteers are getting ready to distribute emergency supplies to Electra Fire evacuees in Amador and Calaveras counties.

In the coming days, county officials will choose locations for those impacted by the fire to stop by and pick up items such as garbage bags, tarps, gloves and cleaning supplies.

The Red Cross is able to provide this service thanks to the generosity of donors. If you would like to support our disaster relief efforts, visit redcross.org/donate.

From Receiving Help to Pondering Helping Others: Evacuees Reflect on Days at Electra Fire Shelter

Michelle Symington and Shelley Royce evacuated from their homes in Amador County to escape the Electra Fire burning in Amador and Calaveras counties.

They are staying with their beloved dogs and cat on at the Red Cross shelter located at the Italian Picnic Grounds in Sutter Creek. There, they are provided food, snacks, beverages, health services and a bevy of other support.

“This is the first time we’ve had to evacuate due to a disaster. It’s a tough time for us,” Michelle said. “I’m worried about my husband’s health condition, but he’s being cared for here.

“We’d much rather be home watching ‘Downton Abbey’ but, on the bright side, I’ve met so many people here who have been so kind and helpful. I like to help people so have decided to check into becoming a Red Cross volunteer”.

If you would like to support Red Cross disaster relief efforts, visit redcross.org/donate and click on “Disaster Relief” in the dropdown menu.

Carolee White: DAT (and many other things) Volunteer Extraordinaire

By Debbie Calcote, Disaster Program Manager

Volunteer Carolee White has taken 75% of all the Disaster Action Team calls we have had in the Amador/Calaveras/Tuolumne territory, either in person or virtual.

She has had some very difficult calls that required extensive research and calling of different agencies to validate a call and damage to help a client. I can recall a few calls that it took her almost three days of continuous work to be able to validate the call and to verify residency since all the client’s belongings were destroyed in the fire.

She has handled so many unique calls and issues with intake and has worked through them to make sure the client or clients were provided services that they needed.

Carolee is always caring and compassionate to the clients and her co-workers. We are so fortunate to have her on our team, and many clients have expressed how grateful they were for all that she did for them.

Did you know that Carolee had wanted to play with abstract painting for over 30 years, and when she finally realized that she could actually sell her artwork, Carolee decided that that would be a nice way to work part-time? She’s now been painting for just over one year and has been having a blast creating beautiful and colorful artwork.

Want to join us? Visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.