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Arizona Families Spend Holiday in Red Cross Shelters

  • Arizona Shelter
    Four-year-old Nicolas Zipperer and his little sister, Salma, enjoy a moment at the Red Cross shelter at Yavapai Community College in Prescott.
  • Arizona Shelter
    The Red Cross is partnering with Animal Disaster Services in Prescott, Arizona so families can bring their pets when ordered to evacuate.
  • Arizona Shelter
    Wendie Carter kisses her rescued shih tzu puppy, Pikachu, outside the Red Cross shelter at Yavapai Community College, where they have been staying after being evacuated.
This set-up is great. It’s good for the animals and it’s good for the people.

While most of the country is enjoying the 4th of July holiday weekend, people in the path of the Arizona wildfires are taking refuge in American Red Cross shelters, hoping when the fires are over they find their house still standing. They left home quickly, taking only what they could.

FAMILY FLEES WITH THEIR PETS When the Carter family of Peeple’s Valley, Arizona, had to abandon their home in the face of the Yarnell Hill wildfire, they took what was most precious with them: eight dogs and two cats.

The entire household has found refuge at Yavapai Community College in Prescott, where the Red Cross and Animal Disaster Services have teamed up to run side-by-side shelters for humans and pets. For more than 10 years, the partnership has been key to getting pet-lovers to leave home when necessary, because they know their animals will be welcome and well cared for right next door to where they are sheltering.

The Carter family initially went to stay with a friend in Yarnell, but when raging flames threatened that community, they had just half an hour to flee. Sheriff’s deputies directed them to the Red Cross shelter, where there would also be food, water and the compassion of caring volunteers.

Even as she prays that her home will be spared, Wendie Carter takes comfort in cradling her little furry pup, Pikachu. “He’s my kid,” she says fondly. “The Red Cross folks make you feel at home,” Carter said, “even when you don’t know if you have a home to go back to.”

Meanwhile, three grandsons and a granddaughter make sure Hunter, Poppy and Cadden get plenty of exercise and affection. Later they’ll turn their attention to the four puppies and the cats.

“People won’t leave their pets behind,” Carter said firmly. “This set-up is great. It’s good for the animals and it’s good for the people.”

YOUNG FAMILY FLEES FLAMES For four-year-old Nicolas Zipperer and his little sister, Salma, moving into the gymnasium at Yavapai Community College is an adventure. There are other youngsters to play with, toys they haven’t seen before, even a stuffed animal for each child. But for their mother, Mary, evacuation to a Red Cross shelter is a mixed blessing. She’s profoundly grateful for a safe place to stay, but anxious about what her family faces when the Yarnell Hill wildfire is finally tamed.

While most of her neighbors in Peeple’s Valley went to stay with family or friends when authorities told them they had to evacuate, “We’ve only lived her six months. We don’t know anybody here,” she said.

While her husband goes to work each day, the young mother looks after Nic, Salma and their six-month-old baby sister as well as her husband’s uncle, whose medical condition is aggravated by smoke thrown up by the massive fire. She clings to her faith that their home will be spared. But in the meantime, she appreciates that her children are happily unaware of the fire and that Red Cross volunteers are on hand to cheer her.

VOLUNTEER FLED FLAMES TOO When Jill Nelson tells residents of a Red Cross shelter that she knows how they feel, she’s not just being nice – she really knows what it’s like to have her home threatened by an untamed wildfire.

When Nelson stood before a few dozen evacuees and Red Cross volunteers at the shelter at Yavapai Community College in Prescott, Arizona this week, her sympathy was genuine. Not much more than a week earlier, she and her husband had to abandon their home in Williamson Valley in the path of the Doce fire.

Now the veteran of more than 10 years as a Red Cross volunteer is managing a shelter where a growing number of individuals and families are seeking refuge from the notorious Yarnell Hill wildfire. Nelson invited a representative of the Yavapai County Emergency Management Agency to update everyone on the status of the fight to contain the fire and how the reopening of the devastated area would unfold.

“The risk of the fire is diminishing day by day,” he assured them, adding that once the flames are doused, it will take time to restore power and water to the area. “I don’t want to mislead you. These folks are only going to work as fast as it’s safe.”

Nelson then reported volunteers from across Arizona and beyond are coming to help. “This is in your best interest,” she assured them, outlining services would be added to the shelter-meals-stress counseling that have been offered since last week.

Nelson urged all evacuees to register on Safe and Well, the Red Cross family linking website. Red Cross staffers will be able to help those who left home without prescription medications, eye glasses or other medical needs. There will be counselors and case workers to help evacuees plan their next steps, from how to get smoke out of their home to where to turn if their home was one of the hundreds destroyed.

“And how many of you are thinking right now, I wish I had brought – that – with me? Well, make a list right now of things you wish you had taken, if you ever have to evacuate again. And post that list in every room,” she advised. “I know. When the deputies told us we had to leave home, I thought – aack! What do I take? Here I am a trained Red Cross volunteer and I didn’t prepare. “I know how you feel. You can get through this,” she reassured her listeners. “We’ll get through this,” she said. Jill Nelson knows what she’s talking about.

HOW TO HELP If you would like to help the people affected disasters like the wildfires in the west, you can make a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief on this web site or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS. People can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.