Friday, November 16, 2018 —Thousands of people continue to deal with the devastation left behind by the still raging wildfires in California, many having lost everything to the deadly flames. The American Red Cross is on the ground, providing shelter, food and comfort for them as fires continue to burn in both the northern and southern parts of the state.
More than 990 Red Cross volunteers are providing help and support at evacuation centers to offer safe refuge for people impacted by these devastating fires. Overnight, more than 1,200 people sought refuge from the wildfires in 18 Red Cross and community evacuation centers across the state. People are welcome to come to shelters for help even if they don’t stay overnight.
Working with partners, the Red Cross has served more than 45,700 meals and snacks. Volunteer mental health, health and spiritual care professionals have provided more than 12,100 contacts to provide support and care to evacuees. We’ve also distributed more than 14,900 relief items for people forced from their homes.
EVERYTHING IS GONE
Erin Murphy O’Hara, a resident of Seminole Springs, lost everything when the Woolsey Fire raged through her mobile home community. The woman was in Las Vegas visiting a daughter when the fire hit. A week later she and her two adult children, Caitlin and Conor, a nephew and a family friend were able to return to her home to see everything was gone.
Red Cross workers Heather Fairchild, Denver, Colorado, and Carisa Hettich, Eugene, Oregon, met up with the family while traveling the neighborhood to see if people needed help. They learned O’Hara had received word about the fire and headed home, knowing she wasn’t returning to “her home”. They helped the group get access to the area and provide them with relief supplies.
O’Hara talked about things lost in the fire, including a picture of her daughter who died years ago at age 10 in an accident. Thankfully the family had just uploaded pictures onto the internet so even though the original was lost, copies were available.
The woman also said she had a box full of all the pictures and precious items in a box by the back door that she could grab if there was a disaster like a wild fire. Sadly, her disaster preparation efforts didn’t help much because she was out of town when the fire struck.
One of the most random things undamaged was her mailbox. Amazingly, her new passport arrived unharmed along with a new debit card. It was a lighthearted moment when she held up her passport with a big smile. The Red Cross workers gave the family sifters, gloves, masks, shovels, and rakes to sort through the debris. They found family tea cups, some jewelry and other items. The Los Angeles County Fire Department came by and firemen helped the family sift through an area of the house where the bedroom was, trying to locate the safe for additional items. They also helped lift the fallen roof off the house so they could better access the debris. The firemen gave each of the affected family a gift card to help them with clothes or supplies. O’Hara’s spirits lifted when she saw so many people coming by to help her.
The Red Cross workers learned the community needed food and called to arrange for food to be delivered that afternoon courtesy of the Salvation Amy aboard a Red Cross emergency vehicle, along with additional relief supplies for families that were able to gain access into the community.
FINDING LOVED ONES People continue to search for missing loved ones and Red Cross reunification services are helping reconnect them as quickly as possible. These services include helping people communicate through the Red Cross Safe and Well website, as well as helping with urgent requests involving unaccompanied minors and separated children, reestablishing contact with family members who have been separated within the disaster area and working with partners to resolve reunification-related inquiries. There have been just over 6,200 Safe and Well registrations for the wildfires, as many as 65,700 searches, and more than 1,200 matches through Safe and Well.
If someone is looking for loved ones they can visit the Red Cross Safe and Well website at http://www.redcross.org/safeandwell. The site allows individuals and organizations to register and post messages to indicate that they are safe, or to search for loved ones. The site is always available, open to the public and available in Spanish. Registrations and searches can be done directly on the website.
People can also use the “I’m Safe” feature of the Red Cross Emergency App to let loved ones know their status. The Emergency App is available in app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.
HOW YOU CAN HELP Entire communities and families have been left reeling from these deadly wildfires. Help people affected by the California wildfires by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.
HELP IN TRYING TIMES Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved—especially when they cause such massive devastation so close to the holidays. This is a time for people to come together and support one another.
- Mental health experts recommend finding a balance with regard to media coverage. It’s important to stay informed while also limiting exposure, especially for children.
- Also, be patient with yourself and others. It’s common to have any number of temporary stress reactions such as anger, frustration and anxiety.
- To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746.