On a rainy Sunday in early December, a group of Red Cross volunteers and residents of Cobb Mountain braved the elements in order to take another small step in the area's recovery from the devastating Valley Fire that ravaged Northern California's Lake County just three months earlier.
The dozen American Red Cross volunteers, joining community members from the Cobb Resiliency Action Group, gathered at the Little Red School House in Cobb to give away large tarps and wattle rolls to anyone who needed them to help protect their fire-ravaged land from the soil erosion the coming winter would surely bring.
Nearly 150 tarps, courtesy of the Red Cross, were given away on December 6 — just one of many large and small ways in which the organization has contributed to the Valley Fire recovery effort. Also given away that day, compliments of the Lake County Department of Public Works, were some 120 wattles, the erosion-control rolls that are typically interlaced with twigs or branches.
Mike Conroy, senior disaster program manager for Red Cross's Northern California Coastal Region, and JJ Moses, the regional recovery program manager, have both been supporting the organization's participation in Lake County’s long-term recovery efforts from the Valley Fire.
Conroy says recovery planning and organizing began right on the heels of the fire being extinguished as the Red Cross and other service agencies and organizations on the scene realized how financially challenging the fire was going to be for some of the people who lost homes in the blaze. "We shifted into long-term recovery mode pretty quickly," he says.
"Because of the generosity of our donors, the Red Cross has been able to provide some financial assistance," he adds. "Whether it be financial support or help with something else, we have just tried to pitch in where and when we can. But it is very much a community-wide effort."
At the Little Red School House in December, the Red Cross pitched in with the tarps — badly needed by many residents to cover charred land that had once been protected by trees and vegetation. "And for some of the people, they just needed our tarps to cover possessions that were sitting exposed on their home sites," Conroy says.
The erosion-control work to which the Red Cross is contributing not only protects the Cobb Mountain watershed from soil runoff, it protects the watershed from contaminates that might inadvertently flow downstream from the residents' properties, he adds.
Helping safeguard the watershed, while also sheltering people's personal belongings, are small but meaningful ways in which the Red Cross is contributing to the area's massive post-fire recovery efforts. "It may take the community here years to completely recover from this disaster," Conroy says. "It's a very large undertaking, and we're just one of many organizations — government agencies, non-profits, and citizen groups — that are pulling together to help."
Conroy says that Red Cross has been working with Team Lake County (TLC), a collection of non-profit organizations that formed "as a kind of umbrella organization helping to coordinate many of the recovery efforts."
Shelly Mascari, TLC's chair, says the American Red Cross has been a welcome member of her task force. "There is a tremendous amount of work to be done here in Lake County, and at times it has been truly overwhelming," says Mascari, whose own home was destroyed by the fire. "The American Red Cross has proven to be an invaluable partner."
Mascari adds that she is "especially grateful for the Red Cross's willingness to truly consider the needs of the community, researching and being thoughtful in how they utilize their resources."
"We are grateful for their partnership in striving to rebuild Lake County and meet the needs of our community members," she says.
Image: Long before the devastating Valley Fire was extinguished in Northern California’s Lake, Napa, and Sonoma Counties last fall, staff and volunteers from the American Red Cross were on the scene, playing an important role in the response and recovery efforts. Almost six months later, those efforts are ongoing. An important part of this work has been to comfort and support — and sometimes just lend an ear to — the many people who were victimized by the 76,000-acre fire.