“We haven’t heard from my brother and his wife since the fire. We’re worried sick.” There are still many families uttering similar concerns more than two weeks after the start of the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. The American Red Cross is helping, deploying Red Cross Reunification Services workers and technology to help reconnect loved ones.
The Camp Fire in northern California is now 100% contained but the heartbreaking devastation continues for residents of the area. The fire, which incinerated the town of Paradise and other nearby small communities, destroyed more than 13,970 homes and is the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history.
This fire gave people little warning, many running for their lives with what they could grab going out the door. Nearly 200 people are still missing. That number has come down during the last two weeks as people have been reunited with loved ones and the American Red Cross played a part in the reunification effort.
People are relying on Red Cross reunification services, including use of the Safe and Well website. There are almost 2000 Safe and Well registrations for the wildfires, more than 87,500 searches, and 2,398 matches through Safe and Well. In addition, more than 360 names have been removed from the missing persons’ list due in some part to Red Cross Reunification workers.
Red Cross Reunification Services deploys workers and technology to reconnect individuals as quickly as possible following a disaster or incident. While the Red Cross does not perform search and rescue operations, it does help facilitate communication between separated people through the Safe and Well website, conducts comprehensive searches for individuals, works with unaccompanied minors, and works with partners to resolve reunification-related inquiries.
BROTHER, SISTER REUNITED Within hours after escaping the Paradise wildfire, Kathyrn Bowen and her son were frantically searching for her brother, Randall Sombre. The family became separated while escaping the fire in Paradise.
Not hearing anything for five days Kathyrn lost all hope of finding her brother alive. After seeing a flyer regarding Red Cross Safe and Well she decided to register. Kathyrn learned her brother was at a Red Cross shelter so she rushed to get there. It was quite a reunion. Said Sombre, " I will be forever grateful to the Red Cross."
THEY’RE ALIVE Paradise resident “Randy” Somerby was not at home when the Camp Fire erupted on Nov. 8. He had left for an appointment and looked up to see the whole town covered in heavy black smoke.
“I was thinking about my mom and my stepdad, because they lived at an assisted living home not too far from my place,” he reported while staying at a Red Cross shelter in Chico, Calif. Separated from his family, he spent his first two nights sleeping in his car in a parking lot, when he decided to come to the Red Cross shelter awaiting news on the status of his home and the location of his family.
While at the shelter, Randy shared his concerns about his missing family members to Jim Rainey, a reporter with NBC who was at the shelter interviewing residents. Rainey tracked down Randy’s mom and stepfather at an assisted living facility in another town. After he confirmed they were alive and well, Rainey worked with the Red Cross staff to give him the great news.
BROTHER IS OK Diane Papedo of the Bay Area in California worried about her brother’s fate. Phil Mazores was staying at the Butte County Fairground Red Cross shelter in Gridley and was reunited with his sister there. There were tears all around as the siblings found each other. Their cousins, Cathy Frangoulis and Arsinoe Ferry, looked on with relief and delight.
“I saw him right away, it’s a miracle,” said Diane. The happily reunited family went back to the Bay Area to enjoy time together and help Mazores plan his recovery. “She’s always taken care of me,” he said with a grin.
FINDING LOVED ONES 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.