By Barbara Wood, American Red Cross volunteer
Maria Nunez was putting her two-year-old daughter Jania to bed just before 8 p.m. on January 28 when a loud explosion blew out their third floor windows.
Telling her story four days later at a Red Cross shelter, the native of Honduras said she at first thought someone was fooling around with very powerful fireworks. Speaking through an interpreter, Maria said, she soon realized that the situation was more serious when she saw flames through the window.
Maria said she grabbed her daughter and opened the door to escape; but smoke had already filled the hallway and drove them back into their San Francisco Mission District apartment.
Maria said she closed the door, but kept banging loudly on it so the responding firefighters would know she and her daughter were inside. The firefighters arrived and helped Maria and Jania cover their faces, make their way to a fire escape and climb down to safety on the street.
Friends took the two in for two nights, Maria said, but when the Red Cross opened a shelter in a Salvation Army Community Center on January 30, she and Jania went there.
The two had lived in their Mission District apartment for only six months; but Maria has lived in San Francisco for 10 years. Now they have no home. They escaped their apartment with only the clothes they were wearing. The building was destroyed and they were among 67 people displaced that night.
Maria and her daughter are sharing the shelter in the Mission District with her former neighbors, and with residents of a Tenderloin neighborhood apartment whose homes were destroyed January 29. Because of generous past donations of time and money, Red Cross workforce members were ready to help a total of 115 people affected by three major multi-family home fires in San Francisco between January 28 and 31. Red Cross volunteer case workers meet one-on-one with each family to assess their needs and help them to create a recovery plan with the resources available.
Those affected by the fires in the Mission, Tenderloin, and Alamo Square neighborhoods were able to register with the Red Cross and get help from other agencies, including the Salvation Army, San Francisco Human Services Agency, Tzu Chi (a Buddhist international disaster relief organization), the SF-Marin Food Bank, the San Francisco Unified School District, the Salvadoran and Mexican consulates, and United Policyholders, a non-profit agency that helps with insurance matters. Red Cross volunteers and employees were also able to refer Maria and others affected by the disaster to agencies that can help them with other needs.
The Red Cross plans to keep the shelter open until February 6 and to continue helping those affected by fires and other disasters in their recovery.
All Red Cross assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To learn how to become a volunteer, donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, and learn home fire safety skills, please go to redcross.org.
Printable Checklist: Home Fire Safety