By Eric Maldonado, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

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The Rodriguez family hadn’t even finished unpacking their apartment on Barnes Street in Middletown less than a week after they moved in.

On a hot Saturday afternoon, the family’s youngest child Danna didn’t want to take a nap and started to cry. Big sister Pricilla, 13, took Danna for a stroll outside in her little blue push car. But when they stepped outside, Pricilla knew something was very wrong. The sky was dark with what at first looked like rain clouds, but she quickly realized it was something much worse.

Wildfire was surrounding Middletown. Pricilla said, “The smoke was coming over us like a wave and it was raining ashes.”

Pricilla rushed inside and alerted her father Gregorio. In a state of disbelief, Gregorio panicked as he tried to figure out what to do. Unexpectedly, Pricilla began to give out orders and help her family pack their essential belongings. She called her mother Patricia, who was at work, to let her know what was happening.

She grabbed a suitcase and started to fill it with clothes, grabbed important documents and even a gallon of water for later use. She told her father to park their truck backwards so it would be easier to load and to leave if need be. Pricilla’s instincts turned out to be correct, because shortly after, police officers knocked on their door and told them they need to evacuate immediately.

They left to her uncle’s house, who was also packing. That night they made their way to the Napa County Fairgrounds shelter, where they were warmly greeted by Red Cross volunteers. Since then, they have signed up for recovery assistance with the Red Cross and other relief agencies, and they are now staying at the American Red Cross shelter at Twin Pine Casino in Middletown, just a few blocks away from what little remains of their apartment.

“I’ve never been in a situation like this before. I have found nothing but great people. I had no idea how much the Red Cross does. Out of this fright, I’ve seen something beautiful. There’s so much help available to those affected,” Gregorio said.

Pricilla will go back to school on Monday, Sept. 28 when it reopens. Her entire family is proud of her. They call her their hero.

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