Red Cross volunteers Larry Swerdlin and Heather Fairchild took a moment recently to reflect on what it means to be an American Red Cross volunteer deployed to a disaster like the deadly Camp Fire.
“We show respect to the sacred ground Paradise, California has become by stopping our drive near the police barricade closing the road into the city. We wanted to truly understand the gravity of the situation. You could feel the emotion shift and become very real. We spend our days in the shelters housing, feeding, and taking care of our clients or sometimes never even leaving the office. Looking out at the scorched ground for miles gave us context to what we are trying to rebuild and a tiny look into what our clients have lost. It speaks to our hearts about how important our mission is by standing there in it far more than a story or picture ever could. We drove back in silence knowing our mission with the American Red Cross is one that we are so fortunate to be a part of.”
The deadly Camp Fire in California is now 100% contained. The Red Cross began its relief response more than two weeks ago and remains on the ground, providing shelter, food and comfort to those impacted by these devastating fires.
As the 2018 holiday season begins, as many as 600 Red Cross volunteers are supporting Californians left reeling from the deadly wildfires.
- More than 890 people remain displaced, seeking refuge at 11 Red Cross and independent community shelters across northern California.
- Red Cross disaster mental health and spiritual care volunteers have provided more than 27,600 contacts to families to provide support and comfort as they cope with the effects of the fires.
- Volunteers are also supporting efforts to reconnect families when possible.
- Working with partners, the Red Cross has served more than 84,600 meals and snacks.
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.
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 almost 9,890 Safe and Well registrations for the wildfires, as many as 86,360 searches, and more than 2,300 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.
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.
PARADISE RESIDENT LOST EVERYTHING
David Troy Wigham, 51, returned to the town of Paradise about five years ago and did a huge remodel on his home, which was reduced to ash in the Camp Fire, Wigham has been living in a Red Cross evacuation shelter at the Oroville Nazarene Church.
Wigham said he woke up around 6 a.m. smelling smoke. But when told there was a fire in Belden about 50 miles away, he went back to bed. The next time he woke up, he saw his neighbor's house on fire. He grabbed his backpack and his small dog, DeeDee, and ran from his home.
"I didn't even have a sweater with me," he said. "There was no evacuation warning. I never even saw a fire truck.”
Wigham ran from the fire on foot. It would be several rides and seven long hours until he and his dog reached the evacuation shelter. He knows that many people, including his next-door neighbor, may not have made it out at all.
Despite his losses, Wigham said he is grateful for the safe, warm place to stay in the Red Cross shelter. "It's marvelous," he said. "These people here are so great. They'll literally give you anything you need before you even ask for it."
Wigham said he doesn't think he'll move back to Paradise. "They call it a bad luck mountain up there now," he said. Instead he'll take up the offer of some friends in Calaveras County to stay with them until he's back on his feet.