The American Red Cross continues to help people in California where one wildfire has consumed more than 80,000 acres.
Red Cross disaster workers are providing a safe place to stay for those impacted by the fires, along with meals, emotional support and health services including distribution of masks and eye drops to help people deal with the dense smoke.
Kathleen Weis serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Red Cross Capital Region in Sacramento. She and her staff, along with trained disaster workers, have been busy responding to large wildfires in their region – the King Fire in El Dorado County and the Boles Fire in Siskiyou County. Since July 1, there has only been an 18-hour period where the chapter didn't have at least one Red Cross shelter open somewhere in their region.
Weis described the situation in her region and her chapter’s response during the following question and answer session:
1. How is the Red Cross helping people?
No matter when or where fires occur, our volunteers have answered the call to help our communities in need. Currently we are operating two evacuation shelters in our region - one for residents impacted by the King Fire in El Dorado County, and one for the Boles Fire in Siskiyou County. Volunteers are providing food, safe shelter, attending to any health needs, and providing much needed emotional support and comfort as residents grapple with the uncertainty these fires have brought.
In Weed, CA, as the aftermath of the Boles Fire begins to become clear, our volunteers are right there with affected residents helping them cope with the disaster. Whether providing clean up supplies, assessing damage, or simply being a shoulder to cry on for those who have lost everything in an instant, they are committed to helping those in their greatest time of need.
2. How does your team balance the demands of today’s response efforts with the need to prepare for the next disaster?
It is difficult to find a clear balance between the two considering how active our region has been all year. In fact, since July 1, there has only been an 18-hour period where we didn't have at least one Red Cross shelter open somewhere in our region. However, while the conditions may offer challenges, there is also great opportunity to prepare for the next disaster.
Having volunteer leaders is a great benefit, not only for the current responses, but also for volunteers who may be seeking chances to learn and grow in specific areas. The experienced leaders ensure that we stay on track in the moment, while also providing excellent real-world training to mentor future leaders and ensure our region will be ready and able to respond to the next one.
3. How do volunteers support your work?
Volunteers mean everything! Simply put, volunteers are the heart and soul of the Red Cross. They are the "boots on the ground" meeting face-to-face with those impacted by disasters. They are behind the scenes, coordinating delivery of resources and making sure we have the right tools in place to help those in need. They are leaders, educators, colleagues and friends. They are residents and neighbors of the communities we serve, and we couldn't get the job done without them.
4. What is one thing you would like more Americans to know about this year’s wildfire response efforts?
I think the most important thing for people to recognize is that disaster response is a 24/7 job. Our volunteers are working around the clock to ensure those impacted have what they need to make it through. If there is a need in a shelter, whether it's 2:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m., there is a volunteer available who will get the job done.
And that work continues long after the disaster fades from the news cycles. We are still here taking care of those who need us. This year has been an exceptionally busy wildfire season, but no matter how many responses we've encountered, our volunteers have answered the call and continue to give their all and do amazing work.
5. Have you met anyone in particular whose story touched you or who was affected by the Red Cross’ work?
One of the stories that stands out is about our volunteer, Kari Guthrie, who is currently working at our King Fire evacuation shelter. The King Fire response is her first as a Red Cross volunteer. However, within an hour of reporting to the shelter when the fire first broke out, she received a phone call telling her that her own home was now under a mandatory evacuation order due to the fire. She rushed home to gather her family and a few important items and returned to the shelter, this time as an evacuee. As scared and uncertain as she may have been, she noticed that same concern on the faces of neighbors coming in and she made a choice. She took her family to a friend's home out of the fire's path, and returned to the shelter as a Red Cross volunteer to help her community and she has continued that work ever since. Read more about Kari here.
6. Describe the top three ways your team is making a difference.
Our team is making a difference in countless ways. This has got to be the hardest working team around, giving their all to each and every disaster response. They have tremendous heart, always willing to put in countless hours to go above and beyond, attending to every need of those we serve. Regardless of the number of disasters, this region can always count on the Red Cross to answer that call. I'm so proud to be a part of such an amazing group of selfless individuals.