FAQ: Valley and Butte Wildfire Recovery

faq-post-pictureAs families re-enter their neighborhoods, many are asking how to stay safe, where to go, and what the next steps are as they map out their road to recovery.

We have gathered some resources to help answer a few of the most commonly asked questions the Red Cross is receiving from those affected by the California Wildfires. The following information has been developed with guidance from CalFire, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Public Health, Calaveras County,  and Lake County, California.

Please note that all Red Cross services are free.

Q: How do I know when it’s safe to return to my property?

A: Do not re-enter your property until fire officials say it’s safe to do so. Check the CalFire website for most recent updates. Keep your skin covered by wearing long pants, sleeves, gloves and masks while sifting through debris to keep ash and any toxic chemicals away. Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots which can flare up without warning.

Q: Is the water safe to drink?

A: Consult your local drinking water provider or check with your county officials to ensure the water is safe to drink. Wash any home-grown fruit or vegetables from trees or gardens before eating.

Q: Can I eat the food that was kept in my refrigerator?

A: If you were evacuated and/or without power, dispose of any food left in your refrigerator. Make sure to sterilize the interior and exterior of your refrigerator and freezer thoroughly before storing food when electricity has been restored to avoid contamination.

Q:  Where do I dispose of garbage if there are no trash facilities in my area?

A: Do NOT dispose of ash or fire debris in dumpsters or garbage bins, as it may contain hazardous waste. Cleaning products, paint, batteries and damaged fuel containers need to be disposed of properly to avoid risk.  Shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums are not recommended to clean up ash. HEPA filter vacuums could be used, if available.  Calaveras County has a debris cleanup effort in place. Lake County is developing a debris plan; please continue to check http://www.co.lake.ca.us.

Q: How do I protect myself when cleaning up ash?

A: Wear a mask, gloves, long sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid ash contact with skin, as it may cause irritation. If you get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible. Some wet ash can cause chemical burns. Do not use leaf blowers as they will cause ash to disperse in the air.

Q: Is it safe to allow my kids and pets near ash?

A: Keep children and pets away from ash and do not allow them to play near ash pits.  Wash toys thoroughly before children play with them. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn your pets’ paws or hooves.

Q: How do I stay healthy during the recovery and clean up process?

A: Cleaning, sorting and sifting through debris can be strenuous and emotionally taxing. If you experience chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, seek medical care immediately. Some ash may cause chemical burns when it becomes wet on the skin. Make sure to pay close attention to children and the health and emotional impacts your family may be feeling.

Q: Where can I find additional resources on getting disaster recovery assistance?

A:  You can register with the Red Cross for immediate relief needs. To do so, please talk directly with a Red Cross caseworker at a local assistance center, chapter location or call 855-224-2490. Please note that signing in at a Red Cross shelter does not qualify as officially registering for disaster relief assistance.

Those who registered with the American Red Cross for wildfire assistance need to also register separately with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at 800-621-3362. Registering with FEMA is required to be considered for federal assistance, even if you have registered with another disaster relief organization such as the American Red Cross, the state, local officials or churches.  The Red Cross and FEMA are separate entities that treat client information as confidential.

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Licensed Mental Health Workers are Onsite to Provide Comfort

Written by Jan Mendoza, Volunteer Contributor

Disasters are typically unexpected, sudden and overwhelming and for many people they can take an emotional toll. It’s common for people to suffer from high stress, anxiety, depression and other trauma related illnesses.

Many do not know that immediately after a disaster strikes a community the American Red Cross deploys highly skilled professionals to shelters and assistance centers to provide individual psychological triage, community mental health surveillance, psychological first aid, psychoeducation, community resilience training, advocacy, crisis intervention and condolence support.

georgia tiessen- mental healthGeorgia Tiessen, a Red Cross volunteer with a Masters in Social Work has been diligently helping victims of the Butte fire get the vital help and resources they need to cope in the days and months ahead.

“These people hold it together as long as they can to get their immediate needs met, but then it hits them,” said Tiessen. “We want to make sure that they are not left dealing with these feelings on their own and get the help and support they need for the long term.”

Delores lost her home and barely got out with her life escaping from the Butte Fire on September 9. She was waiting outside of the Red Cross Assistance Center in San Andreas visibly upset as her husband was signing up for Red Cross Services.

“I have anxiety issues and I just couldn’t go in with him; I needed to separate myself”, she said. “We lost everything and have to start over.” Mental Health Volunteer Georgia Tiessen not only made sure Delores got her hot lunch as she waited, Georgia counseled her, gave big hugs and the resources Delores will need to help her overcome.

Compassionate mental health care is just one face of recovery when disaster strikes and for Delores that face was Georgia.

There are many ways people can volunteer with the Red Cross, including serving as a disaster mental health worker like Georgia Tiessen. Join the team today!

Straight Talk on the California Wildfire Response

There have been several misunderstandings about the Red Cross and our response to the California wildfires, and we believe it is important to state the facts as clearly as possible.

Like you, these are our communities and we care deeply about the people driven from their homes by these terrible fires, especially those who have lost everything. Our mission is simple: to provide shelter, food, and relief to people in need.

A disaster this size takes the involvement of many people from many backgrounds and we’re proud to be one of those “helpers”. We are committed to partnering with others with the same or similar mission so that together we can provide a wide range of opportunities for anyone who wants to help fire survivors.

Fact #1The role of the Red Cross is to provide shelter and to support the immediate needs of those affected by the California wildfires, including a safe place to stay, food, water, and health services, cleaning supplies, emotional support and other support resources. We have supported people with disabilities and we also partnered with several organizations to care for evacuated pets and animals. Residents affected by the fires are welcome to stop by our shelters for services during the day even if they choose to spend the night elsewhere.  Some individuals and families chose to stay outside of the shelters because they wished privacy that a shelter setting could not provide.

Since evacuations were first ordered, more than 600 trained Red Cross workers and community volunteers have:

    • Served more than 76,000 meals and snacks
    • Handed out more than 32,000 relief items
    • Supported more than 10,000 overnight stays in shelters
    • Provided more than 4,800 health and mental health contacts
    • Opened more than 500 cases to provide individualized recovery support

Fact #2: Red Cross normally coordinates the handling of in-kind donations with a partner organization that has the expertise in the logistics of sorting and packing goods. We appreciate the generosity of those who have brought items to help others, but we cannot accept in-kind goods donations as we do not have the infrastructure to support management, sorting, and distribution of such items. In Calistoga, Napa County identified the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (cvnl.org) Emergency Volunteer Center to coordinate such donations. In Calaveras County, if you want do make a donation, contact the Mountain Ranch Resource Center that keeps a list of items needed.

Fact #3: Financial donations to the Red Cross are being used to provide help to people in need right now and will enable us to continue providing help as communities recover. As of Sept. 27, the Red Cross estimates that we will spend more than $6.6 million helping people affected by wildfires across the western United States – the vast majority of these costs are for California (more than $5 million) and Washington State (more than $1.1 million).The $6.6 million cost estimate includes wildfire response and recovery efforts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington State.

The Red Cross meticulously honors donor intent. Donations made in support of a specific disaster will be used for that disaster only. Any designated funds we raise beyond what is needed for emergency relief will be put to use serving the recovery needs of the affected communities.

Fact #4: An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends goes to our humanitarian services and programs and are used to provide food, shelter, emotional support and other assistance, as well as the staff, goods, vehicles and warehouses that make that relief possible. This means that roughly 9 cents of every dollar donated supports general operations to keep the Red Cross running, such as information technology, fundraising, finance, HR and communications.  The Red Cross has been accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and has a 3-star rating with Charity Navigator.  One of the BBB’s standards for accountability is that a charity should spend at least 65 percent of total expenses on program activities. The Red Cross vastly outperforms on this measure. We encourage donors to review our rankings with watchdog organizations and view our audited financial reports on redcross.org.

Fact #5: We greatly appreciate the number of individuals who stepped up to volunteer for the California wildfire disaster, but as with any volunteer organization, we must follow certain screening protocols, which take time to implement and are difficult to undertake during a disaster. Any community members interested in spontaneous volunteering help may register online with North Coast Opportunities at ncoinc.org.

The Red Cross is a nearly all-volunteer workforce, composed of people who want to help their neighbors. In response to massive wildfires in California this month, local Red Cross volunteers from the affected areas and neighboring counties immediately mobilized to help the relief effort.

The Red Cross is always seeking committed, qualified volunteers to help our local communities before, during and after disasters. Please direct anyone who is looking for an ongoing or longer-term commitment to Red Cross Sierra Delta Volunteers and they can work with their local volunteer manager to complete the steps needed to become a Red Cross volunteer.

By their very nature, disasters are unpredictable and require immediate crisis management and triage to employ the best possible response and outcome. The reality is that disaster response sometimes is not perfectly executed. We regret that anyone whose offer to help, donate and/or otherwise support support were met with anything less than a compassionate and gracious response from the Red Cross, and we appreciate those who sought us out to express their concerns.

Youth Gardens Help Feed Families in Aftermath of Butte Fire

Red Cross joins the effort to get school garden veggies to families in need

Students from Toyon Middle School in Valley Springs donated their harvest to fire victims.
Students from Toyon Middle School in Valley Springs donated their harvest to fire victims.

So many people and organizations have stepped up these last two in weeks as the Butte Fire burned more than 70,000 acres in Calaveras and Amador Counties, destroying over 500 homes and evacuating thousands from their homes for days on end.
“We wanted to help too,” said Zach Guillemin a Railroad Flat Resident and 8th grader at Toyon Middle school in the garden and landscaping class.

“I know a lot of families up where we live that lost their gardens in the fire, and we thought maybe we could give them some of the vegetables we are growing in our school garden since they aren’t able to grow them anymore,” Guillemin said.

With the wheels set in motion, many organizations stepped up to support the effort.  The American Red Cross, The Resource Connection Food Bank, The UCCE Central Sierra, Calaveras Unified School District, Gardens to Grow In, Community Emergency Response Teams, FoodCorps, Calaveras FFA and many community partners all jumped on board to help make this happen.

IMG958643For the last two weeks all of the vegetables that are being harvested from the Calaveras High School Farm, Toyon Middle School and many of the elementary school gardens have been given directly to those affected by the fire.

“It is has been great to see so many of the students so excited to help, and feel like that are able to do something valuable for this community,” said Lucas Hill, a FoodCorps service member who serves at the Calaveras High School Farm and Gold Strike High School.  “Being new to this community, I have been so impressed by the youth and organizations that have mobilized to make this a reality.”

In addition to harvesting the vegetables and getting them distributed to families in need, Hill also helped lead a cooking session in the Valley Springs Elementary School Garden for Oakendell students who had been evacuated to the gym, and held a garden activity day for children and families evacuated to the campgrounds with FoodCorps service member Emily Metzger.

Food harvested from the gardens has been given to the Resource Connection Food Bank and American Red Cross for distribution and given directly to families at the school sites.

“These are the kinds of things that make us all feel so good inside,” said Marti Crane, long time Red Cross Volunteer and Calaveras County resident.  “When I heard that the schools were needing a way to get these veggies to the families, we saw a great opportunity for collaboration.  The youth in our community are amazing and we are so happy we have been able to help them fulfill their vision of feeding these families with these wonderful vegetables they have put so much time and love into growing.”

In all, over 300 pounds of vegetables grown at the Calaveras High School Farm and school gardens has been given away the last two weeks

“We plan to continue giving away the vegetables we are growing as long as there is a need,” said Guillemin. “It feels good to be able to provide something as foundational as healthy food for those that need it,” he added.

Simple Words that Make the Red Cross Glow

IMG951957Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort is a place of great fun, entertainment, music and food; nonetheless, for 11 days one of the most popular Casinos in Northern California became a place of safety and shelter for hundreds of people evacuated the by Butte Fire that charred hundreds of homes in Calaveras and Amador Counties.

When evacuation orders were lifted, the number of people staying at the shelter declined. As people were leaving Jackson Rancheria we asked them to share with us a few simple words of their stay.

Jerry (82) and Kathy (77) Purse from Rail Road Flat, CA

“It’s been fantastic! The way the Red Cross took over, made sure we had everything we needed. The Red Cross and Jackson Rancheria did a fantastic job!”

Steven (56) and Winnie (52) Androvich from West Point, CA

“Made me feel like a guest, a carefree guest. The Red cross removed all my stress…made me feel like I was home.”

John (58) and Karil (56) Shipley; David Shipley (32); Heather Bolta (28)

“Fantastic! Red Cross gave us a lot of help, A LOT! You guys did great! Thank you, thank you…so much help!”

Leona Stormoen (72) from Pine Grove, CA

“Over the top! I’m in a fog, I can’t even tell you…every time I needed something, it was done, it was there….information, services, comfort…EVERYTHING!”

Matt (59) and Sherrie Whitmer from West Point, CA

“Everything! Everything twice for a week….that’s what you did for us, and I mean everything! This has been a home. There are no words for it. It feels like home here, I found a shirt that said “Welcome Home” and I mean, it’s just been phenomenal! I hope you put that in Big Capital Letters…for the rest of my life, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

Wally (55) Thom; Carol (82) Thom; Rebecca (54) Thom; Alissa (17 when she arrived, 18 when she left)

“On a scale of 1-10…a 12!”   said Wally; “So Good to know you are here, especially with my Mom”

“Ditto! There were awesome…everyone was great!” said Rebecca

Tara (27) Booth; two kids Aubrey (4) and Anna (3) from Rail Road Flat, CA

“We don’t even know where to begin. The Red Cross was able to give us everything and do everything for us. Especially with our kids, you made it so easy for us!”

Summer Reed-Johnson (61) from Wilseyville, CA

“100% excellent, and kind… so kind. Whatever it is that I needed, you were able to provide it. It was just so comfortable and easy. It made me not feel afraid.”

Check out the pictures about this response on our Flickr Album

Butte Fire: Red Cross Services – New Updates

21583982776_6be013043f_zRed Cross Information Hotline: (855) 224-2490

Bulk Distribution

Red Cross volunteers are handing out cleaning, hygiene and comfort items in hardest-hit neighborhoods devastated by the Butte fire. These items include water, snacks, non-perishable meals, and clean-up items such as gloves, buckets, trash bags and dust masks  and debris sifters.

Shelters

The shelters are providing for the immediate needs to those affected, including a safe place to stay, food (dinner, snacks), water, medicines and health services, cleaning supplies, emotional support and other support resources. Impacted residents are welcome to stop by during the day even if they choose to spend the night elsewhere. The shelters will remain open as long as there is a need.

  • Jenny Lynn Veterans Hall
    189 Pine Street, Valley Springs

Resource Centers

Local resource centers are places where representatives of various local agencies will be available to assist impacted residents with information, basic needs, and referrals to programs and services. In additional, the Red Cross Client Assistance Center gives affected families the opportunity to meet one-on-one with trained Red Cross caseworkers who will assess their disaster-caused needs and provide information to help individuals move toward recovery.

  • Calaveras County Local Assistance Center
    Old Calaveras Government Center
    891 Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas

    Sunday 9/27
    9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

    Monday 9/28 – Friday 10/2
    8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

NOTE: Times are subject to change. Check back to this blog for updates.

Butte Fire – Stories from the Front Lines

Author: Rich Woodruff, Deployed from Salt Lake City, Utah

Rich visits one of the home sites ravaged by the Butte Fire
                              Rich Woodruff surveys one of the home sites ravaged by the Butte Fire

The Red Cross Story at the Butte fire is not a single story, but many stories as communities, government, interfaith communities and businesses come together during times of crisis.  The media has played a critical role in disseminating information to the public and raising funds for the Red Cross through telethons and other campaigns.

MobileFeedings2The Red Cross has been distributing cleaning supplies and food at many areas affected by the Butte Fire. Just yesterday, when our emergency response vehicle was arriving to one of the areas that was blackened by the fire, people camping on their decimated property began wandering down from the hills in dire need of food, clothing, bedding, batteries, diapers, dog food … the list goes on and on.

Red Cross volunteers were there to greet them with a warm smile, hugs and more. Our mission there was twofold: to distribute relief and clean up supplies as well as serving lunch prepared by the Southern Baptist remote kitchen in nearby San Andreas.  The kitchen cooks thousands of meals a day and Red Cross ERVs (Emergency Response Vehicles) get them to the people where they are since most have lost their transportation.  Today’s lunch was chicken fingers, potato salad and homemade banana pudding.  The food was fresh and warm thanks to the special insulation containers used in the ERV’s.20150920_130752

One story that really touched me was the story of Mary from the Mountain Ranch area. Mary had not eaten in two days and was scouring the makeshift store for diapers, bedding, clean clothes and just basic needs like toiletries.   She also was asking about burn cream for her cat that had wandered on to the smoldering ashes of her property.  I quickly joined her rummaging through boxes finally coming upon some Aloe Vera.  At this time, her pet’s needs were more important to her than her own needs. She rushed to put some of the aloe vera on her cat… we waited and invited her to eat some food. While she was eating, Mary shared her story and appreciation for our immediate concern and help. A few minutes later, a line was forming behind the Red Cross supply truck full of rakes, garbage bags, gloves, buckets, dust masks and other clean-up supplies.

Another person affected by the Butte Fire, showed up with another specific need. Bob, was asking if we had any sifters and thanks to the generosity of Ace Hardware we actually did.

Ace Hardware donated 2×4’s and screens and Red Cross volunteers built more than 600 sifters so that they can be distributed during our routes to the affected area.  Bob had heard of people finding valuables and was hopeful to do the same.  In our efforts to take care of first things first, it’s easy to overlook the importance of a mailbox key or the emotional boost a retrieved precious family heirloom would provide.

Recovering from a disaster takes time and the Red Cross will be working alongside partners in the community to deliver aid for months to come.

We were here before this disaster, during and will remain after, because that’s what we do.