By Kathleen Maclay, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Jim Plank of Kelseyville has been a volunteer with the American Red Cross of the California Northwest chapter for more than 20 years and is a veteran of 13 disaster responses, from Lake Tahoe forest fires to Superstorm Sandy. Even two decades of experience couldn’t prepare him for the challenge that the Valley Fire presented: this time it was personal.

“This one is harder than most, as it is in my backyard and I know a lot of the folks who have lost their homes,” says Plank.

Riding home from a motorcycle outing on Saturday, September 12, he spotted smoke curling up the back side of Cobb Mountain.

“I received the call to set up a shelter in Kelseyville at about 2:30 p.m.,” Plank recalls.  “I contacted my core volunteers to start the process.”

Busy setting up the shelter at the Kelseyville Presbyterian Church about 6 p.m. that day, a neighbor notified Plank that his own neighborhood was under an evacuation order.

He says he was too busy to give the news more than a passing thought: “I had packed a bag when I left to set up the shelter, so I was prepared to stay out for a couple of days.”

He was allowed back to his home four days after the outbreak of the state’s third most devastating wildfire in history, but remains hard at work for the Red Cross, currently as logistics lead at the shelter at Grace Kelseyville Church. His son, Jeff Plank of Lower Lake, CA, also is lending a hand, as a general Red Cross volunteer.

“I am still working the disaster relief operation and making new friends,” he says. “I know we’re doing all we can.”

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