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Special delivery to Cobb Mountain

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by Kathleen Maclay, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

As Red Cross volunteers were dispatched Monday, Oct. 5th in response to torrential rains and flooding on the East Coast, Red Crossers assigned to the West Coast after the Northern California Valley Fire made a special delivery of supplies for a hard-hit Cobb Mountain community.

Leaders of the Mountain Lion’s Club in Cobb, located on state Highway 175, asked for specific items that they said residents needed after their community was finally reopened after the lifting of mandatory evacuation orders that came as the fire roared toward Cobb nearly a month ago.

A Red Cross crew working out of nearby Middletown worked to unload sleeping bags, ice chests, blankets, shovels, camp chairs, tents, charcoal, cots, pallets of ready-to-eat meals, and more than 300 sifters specially made by Redwood Empire Council Boy Scouts of America of Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Rose Geck, a 31-year resident of Cobb and a Lion’s Club volunteer who helped direct the unloading of supplies, said the community is incredibly grateful for the emergency and recovery response it has witnessed.

“The landscape here will be changed for many, many years,” she said.  “It will take a long time for the Old Cobb to come back.  It will actually be the New Cobb.  There’s a lot of hope.”

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Saved by the Church Bell

By Taelor Duckworth, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Many folks in the Middletown area know that the United Methodist Church in Middletown was the site of the Red Cross Client Assistance Center for several days. People affected by the Valley fire could go there to find help and resources available from the Red Cross. (It has since moved to the Twin Pine Casino.)

What many don’t know, is that the church has long been a sanctuary for evacuees of any disaster. In fact, in the midst of the Valley fire erupting, the Middletown UMC church bell was used to signal the alarm for townspeople to evacuate.

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Evelyn Kerr-Hansen has been a member of the Middletown United Methodist Church since 1998. She currently serves as the food distribution director and oversees the church’s community service projects, her favorite being the Spirit of the Season event where they give turkeys out to families for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Evelyn has been a resident of Cobb since ’98, but says she’s never seen a fire quite like this one. She and her husband, Clay, left their cabin just in time to escape the fire. Evelyn thought it would be a good idea to open the church as she felt that’s where most people would go to find comfort and shelter. As they made their way into town, Evelyn had her keys ready to unlock the food cabinets and open the sanctuary when the church’s pastor, Claudja, called to be sure that she was opening the church. The pastor was stuck in Clear Lake and couldn’t make it across the bridge into Middletown.

As soon as Evelyn got the church doors unlocked, she heard a knock. When she opened them, she expected to find an evacuee. Instead, she found a firefighter telling her she had to leave the church.

“Why? Why would I have to leave the church?” asked Evelyn. “This is where people are going to go to be safe.”

To answer her question, the firefighter asked Evelyn to step outside the church and look back toward the mountain. Evelyn said she saw a wall of angry red flames spilling down the mountain behind the post office. She knew she would have to lock the church up and go.

“Over the years, I’ve heard several times that if anything bad were to happen, you should ring the church bell twelve times to alert the town,” said Evelyn. “For a long, long time, before there were cell phones or computers, that’s how people knew if something happened. Whether it be a child missing or in this case, a fire, you ring the bell twelve times, and people know something is wrong.”

So, that’s just what she did. Evelyn went into the chapel, wrote a short prayer for the prayer tree and proceeded to ring the church’s bell twelve times as fast as she could. From there, she went to help an elderly friend evacuate who lived near the church. On her way to the Red Cross shelter in Calistoga, she checked in on another family before finally putting Middletown in her rearview mirror.

Since returning, Evelyn has been a helping hand at the Red Cross Client Assistance Center. She made sure the volunteers were taken care of and people’s needs were being met. Several volunteers made sure to tell her that many of the people they saw from Middletown told them they wouldn’t have even known about the fire or to evacuate if it hadn’t been for Evelyn ringing the church bell.

After much convincing from Red Crossers, Evelyn eventually signed up for Red Cross assistance for her own home’s damage and says she and her husband will likely look to return to the mountain after repairing their cabin.

“God bless the Red Cross,” said Evelyn. “I have seen big, burly grown men come out of this church with tears streaming down their faces because you’ve been able to help them. Women and children, families and people from all walks of life have been here to give and receive help. It’s really amazing what you all do, and I’m glad I could be here to help the Red Cross, so the Red Cross could help these people.”

Scout behind Sifter project meets Valley Fire residents

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by Kathleen Maclay, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Evan Jacobs, the Santa Rosa 7th-grader who spearheaded a project building free sifter boxes for residents affected by the Valley Fire, met Saturday with Cobb Mountain residents who are sharing the items constructed by Evan, his fellow scouts with the Redwood Empire Council, Boy Scouts of America in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and a range of eager partners.

The boy modestly accepted kudos at the Mountain Lions’ Club in Cobb, which had a fresh supply of the items quickly produced by Evan and dozens of other scouts in between classes, homework and a bit of sleep.  The scouts did the hammering, while adult leaders in the council handled the power tools.

“People are going through a lot of water, and a lot of sifters,” said Johnny Cappa, president of the Mountain Lions’ Club, where sifters were being distributed to anyone with the need.

Danny Ventress of Cobb stopped by the club house to lend a hand sharing supplies from sifter boxes to clean-up kits from the Red Cross, dog bones and gloves to sleeping bags. While his own home is safe to return to, Ventress said he’s been busy helping friends and neighbors sift through the charred remains of their homes.

“That’s great,” said Ventress after inspecting the council’s sifter boxes. “The boys ought to be darned proud.”

Among the business partners supporting the Redwood Empire Council were Agwood Mill and Lumber in Ukiah, which contributed all the lumber and pre-cut it to size; local Coldwell Banker agents who made financial donations; Lowe’s hardware, which discounted prices on materials and transported them; and Amy’s Kitchen, which offered up its parking lot for a maker space for the scouts.

The boy scouts are prepared to provide more sifters if the need arises.

A Friend to Four-Legged Evacuees

By Eric Maldonado, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Mark Scott, senior animal control officer and operations supervisor for the Petaluma Animal Shelter has been working around the clock since the Valley Fire erupted on Sept. 12, 2015.

When he received the request from authorities to handle animal control, Mark immediately jumped into action. The first night, as evacuees filed into Napa Fairgrounds Shelter, he saw families bringing in their cats, dogs, horses, goats and other types of animals.

As he saw the large numbers of furry friends and their people seeking safety at the fairgrounds, Mark thought to himself, “This is going to be bigger than we think.”

He knew supplies were going to be in short supply, so he used the power of social media to ask the public for supplies. Their response was immediate. As soon as donors were dropping off food and supplies, there were recipients picking them up.

As the fires continued to burn, Mark conducted search and rescue for animals in distress. He brought the animals he found to the Middletown Animal Hospital where they could be reunited with their owners.

More recently, Mark has been operating the mobile animal shelter, where residents staying at the Red Cross Shelter at the Twin Pine Casino and Hotel can check their pets in for the night or just while they sign up for Red Cross assistance. He’s knows he is providing peace of mind for pet owners while they work, sleep or seek help from one of the many relief organizations.

Mark will be going back to his day-to-day operations soon, but he’s leaving behind a several kennels, lined with used Red Cross blankets for warmth; a pop-up canopy for shade; food; and leashes for anyone who might need to use them.

Mark cares for animals so much because in his words, “It’s like helping a child, they’re defenseless. The dog can’t say thank you, but at the end of the day, you know you did something good.”

Boy Scouts Build Sifter Boxes for Valley Fire Victims

By Eric Maldonado, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Evan Jacobs, 11, kept close track of the Valley Fire since it started. Every day he looked at the morning newspaper to stay up to date on the firefighters’ progress. His mother, Danelle Jacobs, would even take him to the airport to see the air tankers take off to fight the flames.

Evan wondered what they could do to help those in need. “I was thinking of what my little Cub Scouts could do,” Danelle said. “Then I thought, sifter boxes!”

The group originally built 50 sifters and called the American Red Cross to see if they could help out in any other way. They asked, “Can you build 4,000?” Without hesitating, she answered that they could.

So on a Wednesday night in Santa Rosa, dozens of Boy Scouts and their parents began to assemble 4,000 sifter boxes for those affected by the Valley Fire.

Danelle Jacobs with Steve Countouriotis, Board Chair, American Red Cross of the California Northwest
Danelle Jacobs with Steve Countouriotis, Board Chair, American Red Cross of the California Northwest

These boxes are desperately needed by local residents as they search through the ashes of their homes. Each box brings them closer to finding precious mementos and memories.

As a Scout, Evan feels he has an obligation to assist those in need. “I was seeing all the thousands of homes that were destroyed and thought the Scouts should help,” he said. “I think it’s cool to see all the Scouts building sifter boxes and spending their time helping the victims of the Valley Fire.”

The sifter building project would not be possible without the help of the following generous partners: The Boy Scouts of America Packs of the Redwood Empire Council; Agwood Mill and Lumber in Ukiah for generously donating all of the lumber and pre-cutting it to size; Coldwell Banker agents for their financial donations; Lowe’s for generously discounting the rest of the needed supplies and providing transportation of the materials; and Amy’s Kitchen for kindly providing their parking lot as a space for the Boy Scouts to gather and to build.

Nearly Trapped by the Valley Fire: An Escape Story

By Taelor Duckworth, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

Saturday, September 12th, 2015 began much like any other for Terran Compton of Cobb, Calif. He woke up, made his way to the kitchen and began the task of searching for jobs. The 18-year-old has been looking for work in Lake County since he graduated from high school without much luck. He and his 11-year-old brother had the house to themselves because his mother was working at Twin Pine Hotel & Casino where she is a waitress.

In the early afternoon, he realized something wasn’t quite right. He looked out his window and saw thick, dark gray clouds of smoke and a man from his neighborhood running through the streets screaming, “FIRE!” Terran didn’t worry though. There had been several fire calls before, but nothing ever close to their property. He didn’t think it would come toward them.

When Terran’s mother pulled into their driveway at the end of the winding mountain road shortly after, she told him they needed to evacuate. They grabbed only the essentials and loaded them into the car, along with their two dogs.

“It all happened so fast,” said Terran. “We thought we had time. But the fire moved too fast, and we had almost no warning. Being at the end of the road, we were slower than the rest of our neighbors to get out.”

Firefighters came down their road to tell them it was time; they needed to get off the mountain. But as the Comptons quickly made a scan of their house, the Valley fire was burning too fast and too hot to be controlled. By the time they came outside to leave, firefighters told Terran and his family it wasn’t safe to take their car; they needed to get into the fire truck.

The fire had surrounded their property and was moving fast through their neighborhood. Because Terran’s house is at the end of the road, he, his family and the firefighters were all trapped, surrounded by the flames. Firefighters worked to put the flames out around the property while the family huddled in the safety of the fire truck.

For four and a half hours, they watched as their neighborhood burned down around them. The firefighters were working tirelessly, but at times Terran wasn’t sure if they would be able to get out alive.

By 8 p.m., Terran and his family were finally able to escape the neighborhood in their car with clearance from the firefighters. They sped down the mountain as flames licked the sides of the road. After escaping what he describes as a horror movie, Terran’s family went to stay with his grandmother for a few days. When they heard about the Napa County Fairgrounds, where the Red Cross and other organizations were providing help, they headed that way.

In the Red Cross shelter, they found some of their friends and neighbors.

“We really enjoyed staying there and getting to just have fun and try to forget with everyone else,” said Terran.

As news rolled in about the extent of the fire and the damage sustained, Terran’s mother learned that one of their friends—the man who came down the street to warn them about the fire—was one of the fatalities reported.

When evacuation orders were lifted after two weeks, the Comptons were surprised to find out that their home was left untouched. They even had electricity.

“Even without water at our house, it just feels nice to be there, to be home,” Terran said.

Much of their food was ruined, and they still have to boil water, so for now, Terran’s family has been seeking food, water and support from the Red Cross distribution site near their home.

“The Red Cross has been great so far. They’ve been really nice. They’ve been feeding us, giving us supplies and taking care of us. Everything about it has been really awesome, and I couldn’t appreciate it more,” said Terran.

While Terran says he will never forget what he saw that day, he feels they are lucky to have made it and lucky to still have their home. Now, he plans to find work with the clean-up crews on the mountain, so he can play a role in rebuilding his community.

Whole Community Recovery: It takes the whole community to make a community whole.

By Cynthia Shaw, American Red Cross

When a series of devastating wildfires ravaged California, thousands of homes were lost in minutes and many people were suddenly coping with unprecedented challenges. In small towns with a big sense of community, neighbors came together to help one another, mobilizing with great generosity.

Two weeks later, many community groups and agencies big and small are still working together on the relief efforts—distributing truckloads of relief supplies, while also providing food, comfort and shelter to those affected by these disasters.

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In the initial hours of the California Wildfires, working closely with local emergency management, several community groups and the American Red Cross opened a combined total of 12 shelters across California for those impacted by the many wildfires. Petaluma Animal Services and other animal groups have provided care for the evacuated pets and animals at many of the shelters.

These shelters have provided for the immediate needs to evacuated residents, including a safe place to stay, food (meals, snacks), water, medicines and basic health services, emotional support and other support resources. To date, community groups and Red Cross have supported over 11,000 overnight stays for residents affected by the evacuation orders.

Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Brad Smisloff, Jason Pasternack, Andrew Wild, Greg Way, and their “phone list” of Napa Valley wine and food industry contacts served over 36,000 meals at the Napa County Fairgrounds Shelter in Calistoga. Side by side with the Southern Baptist Convention, Salvation Army, and Jackson Rancheria, the Red Cross served over 85,000 meals and snacks.

The difficult recovery from these wildfires makes this a frustrating and emotionally draining time for everyone involved. Napa County, Lake County, Calaveras County, and Red Cross Mental Health and Health professionals have provided over 8,500 basic health and mental health contacts.

Clean clothes were also scarce in the smoky aftermath of the fires and communities were without access to water or power. As dirty laundry piles grew larger, the Southern Baptist Convention brought in the laundry trailer to provide free laundry services and they bought their shower trailer as well.

“When disaster strikes, hundreds of people and businesses step up to the plate to help,” said Jeff Baumgartner, American Red Cross of the California Northwest Chapter Executive. “We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of these businesses, organizations, and individuals who made significant efforts to help people affected by these wildfires.”

Several Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, 7th Day Adventist churches and Methodist churches throughout the Lake and Napa Counties, Redwood Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware as well as the Red Cross, have been gathering and handing out cleaning, hygiene and comfort items in hardest-hit neighborhoods devastated by the Valley fire when the evacuation orders are lifted. These items include water, snacks, non-perishable meals, and clean-up items such as gloves, buckets, trash bags, sifters, and dust masks. To date, over 50,000 relief items have been handed out.

Assistance Centers have been opened where residents can access resources available from many organizations, including Tzu Chi, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, Children’s Disaster Services, Samaritan’s Purse, Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, government departments like unemployment and DMV, PG&E, Red Cross and many others. Red Cross case workers are meeting one-on-one with people on matters such as family reunification, funeral assistance, emergency needs and recovery planning. If the Red Cross is not providing for a specific need, our caseworkers are able to help residents get connected to the partner agency that is meeting that specific need. Nearly 1,200 cases have opened by Red Cross caseworkers to provide individualized recovery support.

Disasters are often complex, with complex needs – and no single agency can meet every need on its own; it takes collaboration and partnership. The Red Cross is one of many agencies coming together to ensure that basic needs are met and to work on the long-term recovery of entire communities and to help them be prepared for and more resilient in the face of future wildfires.

Valley Fire Evacuees Thankful for Red Cross Support

Valley fire evacuees John and Heather Henry talk about the support they receive from the Red Cross and community partners at the Napa Valley Fairgrounds shelter.

 

A Helping Meal for Working Hands

By Eric Maldonado, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

As Dale Wiley sifts through the remains of his former home in the Pine Summit Estates on Cobb Mountain, he takes a break to eat a hot meal at the community recreation center.

The meals are brought in by dedicated American Red Cross volunteers who travel up and down the mountain several times a day to ensure that residents like Dale have food and water while they continue the enormous task of rebuilding their lives. Dale knows there isn’t a lot left, but he truly appreciates our volunteers’ efforts while he looks for the few remaining items that may be hidden under the ashes.

“The last few days, I’ve eaten better than I have in the last few years,” Dale said with a smile on his face.

He still has pink spots on his clothing from where a DC-10 aircraft dropped flame retardant chemicals near his home as he was preparing to evacuate.

Committed to his friends and neighbors, Dale and his son coordinated to ensure that everyone could take as many necessities with them, until the very last minute. As the flames grew around them, propane tanks started to explode. The scene could only be described as a war zone said Dale, who is a former U.S. Navy sailor. Even though it was time to leave, his son rushed back into the house to salvage his mother’s urn. If Dale is anything, it’s proud of his son.

After evacuating, he spent a few days with friends and eventually made his way to the Red Cross Assistance Center in Clear Lake. He never thought he’d be in a situation where he would need this type of help. “Until you go through something like this, you don’t really get it,” he said.

Dale is committed to rebuilding because Cobb Mountain is his home. He counts himself lucky to have survived. He is grateful for the volunteers who traveled from throughout the country to be here for his community.

“I don’t know where I’d be without all this help,” Dale said.

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