When You Lose Not Only Your Home, but Your Safe Haven

Barbara Behling, Communications Officer, left on Friday when she got the call that her help was needed in the Red Cross response efforts for the wildfires in California. She is flying back today, and here is one of the many stories she has written during her deployment. We thank Barbara for giving of her time and talent and for sharing the stories of how the Red Cross is helping those in need.

 May 18, 2014 – By Barbara Behling, Advanced Public Affairs Team, Harmony Grove, California Wildfire

Harmony Grove.spider

Harmony Grove home owner Chris Meredith (left) and Barbara Behling, American Red Cross by Koi pond. Photo by: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross

It was not his home but his Koi pond that grabbed national attention.

The devastating San Diego wildfires of 2014 destroyed 25 of the 29 homes of the Harmony Grove Spiritual Association community. Yet, thirty-six of Chris Meredith’s forty Koi survived the burning embers. While watching news the day of the fire, Chris saw his home of 27-years go up in flames. Knowing the importance of this spiritual community, the fire department connected a generator to pump fresh air and clean water into the murky pond to increase chances of the Koi’s survival. The Koi Club of San Diego agreed to relocate the colorful fish until they can be returned to a rebuilt Harmony Grove.

When the first responders gave an ‘all clear’ for residents to return, the American Red Cross was there too. As Harmony Grove residents began searching through ashes, the pain of what was lost was apparent on their faces. Red Cross mental health workers were on the scene to talk with people, provide comfort and support them as a range of emotions swept over them.

Red Cross caseworkers were on hand to assist with short and longer-term recovery plans. Through a partnership with Campesinos Unidos, short-term lodging and emergency funding was provided for residents who lost their homes and all their belongings. The Red Cross also provided water, food, snacks, comfort kits and other supplies to residents returning to where their homes once stood.

With continued oversight by the Red Cross, each resident will have support for days, weeks and even months to come as Harmony Grove rebuilds its community.  “This is more than a home – it’s our safe haven,” Chris said.

Harmony Grove home owner Chris Meredith (right) and Barbara Behling, American Red Cross.  Photo by: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross

Harmony Grove home owner Chris Meredith (right) and Barbara Behling, American Red Cross. Photo by: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross

Many of the residents were philosophical about the losses, emotionally supported by the spirituality of the community.  “With a wooden house and deck and surrounded by trees, it’s not a good combination. We are simply passing through this land and we take the experiences with us,” Chris concluded.

The Red Cross responds to nearly 62,000 residential fires a year and has trained disaster responders available to respond to disasters large and small.

The American Red Cross provides all their services as a gift to the American people from the American people.  If you would like to help us with a financial gift and learn about fire prevention, readiness and tips for disaster recovery please visit www.redcross.org.

 

 

 

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