Western Wildfires Do Affect Us

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

The United States as a whole is in the midst of one of the worst, and most expensive, wildfire seasons on record. To-date this year, more than 8.5 million acres have burned. In addition to the wildfires currently devastating California, Red Cross disaster workers are assisting with relief efforts for an additional 26 large-scale active wildfires that are currently burning across Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

So far this wildfire season, Red Cross teams across multiple states have operated 52 shelters that saw over 2,400 overnight stays, served nearly 41,000 meals and snacks and distributed nearly 5,000 relief supplies to assist those impacted by raging wildfires. The Red Cross is also working with partners to provide care for evacuated pets and animals.

When disasters hit, the impact is felt far and wide – property is damaged, people are displaced, and lives are upended. But one of the greatest impacts of a disaster is often unseen: the effect on people’s emotional health and mental well-being. Trained Red Cross caseworkers are providing much needed mental health services for individuals and families impacted by these disasters, helping people deal with the intensity of the disaster and connect with additional resources within their community. And as fires continue to burn, Red Cross disaster workers are also looking ahead to coordinate recovery efforts for both individuals and families impacted and displaced by these devastating fires. The Red Cross will continue to work within communities to provide the needed resources to help people respond and recover from wildfires – even after the smoke clears.

Disaster Preparedness

People in the path wildfires, hurricanes and other severe weather should download the Red Cross Emergency App for real time access to weather alerts, preparedness information, safety tips and shelter locations. The Emergency App provides expert advice on what to do during floods, tornadoes, wildfires and other disasters. The app also provides lifesaving information on emergency first aid for various situations such as what to do for heart attacks, heat-related emergencies and includes water safety tips. Pre-loaded content ensures that guidance from Red Cross experts is available anytime, anywhere – even without mobile connectivity. The Emergency App is available for free in app stores for smartphones and tablets and can also be found by searching for American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/apps.

Wildfire Tips

With no end in sight to critical fire weather in the affected states, the Red Cross has safety steps people should follow if they live in an area where a wildfire is possible:

  • If a wildfire threatens, be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.
  • Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
  • Confine pets to one room or spot so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.
  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car.
  • When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.

Click here for additional safety information, including what do to before, during and after a wildfire.

  • To support wildfires and residential fires alike, please consider making a financial contribution at redcross.org/donate
  • To become a disaster responder like Gene Wallis and Vicki Gurriell, you can start your volunteer application at redcross.org/volunteer

Deployment Spotlight: Barbara Behling – Communications Officer – Shelter Keepsake & Autographs

Barbara Behling, left on Friday, May 16, 2014 when she got the call that her help was needed in the Red Cross response efforts for the wildfires in California. She flew back Wednesday, May 21, 2014 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.

Photos & Story by: Barbara Behling, American Red Cross  

Eloise Aleman Pillow is autographed by Martin Astl

Eloise Aleman Pillow is autographed by Martin Astl

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Barbara Behling, (left) with Eloise Aleman and her signed pillow.

Pillow closeup

 

It’s not often you have to leave your home with a 5-minute warning but for Eloisa Aleman this was San Diego wildfire reality. From frantic moments she found comfort, friendship and compassion in the Mission Hills High School shelter for several days.

From a collection of individuals, a community was formed thanks to a sea of red vested American Red Cross responders. Each person was welcomed to their ‘temporary home’ with a safe place to sleep, food and snacks around the clock. Medical professions provided a watchful eye to ensure any health issues were addressed including replacing medications left behind from a hasty exit.  Compassionate care was provided to help calm fears and reduce stress as the flames grew and the smoke came closer.  Through partnerships, all their pets were housed, fed and even walked. A few individuals even slept next to their furry friends in separate quarters.

When the evacuation orders were lifted many returned home to resume normal daily activities. However, for some, a new reality was about to begin with clean-up to begin as their homes were reduced to ashes.

Eloise Aleman was so impressed with the hospitality! She wanted a lasting reminder.

“You are all like family!” she exclaimed.

So she wanted to keep her shelter pillow and pranced to each red vest for an autograph and a hug.  This act of appreciation, gratitude and memory will last a lifetime for each Red Cross worker.

“Will My Children Remember Me?”

In honor of Memorial Day, we want to share with you a touching story and video about how a simple doll can help children cope with deployment of their mom or dad.

Story By:  Mar Tobiason, Meghan Spreer & Barbara Behling

American Red Cross volunteer Mar Tobiason presents Hug-A-Hero dolls to the Blankenship family.  Lillie (3 ½) and Hallie (2) along with their mother Katherine Blankenship were delighted with tears of joy.

American Red Cross volunteer Mar Tobiason presents Hug-A-Hero dolls to the Blankenship family. Lillie (3 ½) and Hallie (2) along with their mother Katherine Blankenship were delighted with tears of joy. Photos credit: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross Volunteer.

“Will my children remember me?”

That’s just one of the concerns military fathers have as they leave their young children for extended periods of time. Thanks to a partnership with the American Red Cross, children of the deployed 5th Marines Divisions, have a resounding “yes” to this question.

After two California wildfire evacuations for Camp Pendleton in California, the flames were extinguished and the families returned home to a very special gift from the Red Cross.  Bobby Ellison-Peck, Services to Armed Forces program manager, coordinates the Hug-A-Hero program with the support of military Family Readiness Coordinators. A full-length photograph is taken of each Mom or Dad and reproduced on a custom-made doll. The foot-high stuffed dolls also have words of encouragement such as “I Love You!” Tears of joy ran down the cheeks of moms after their child received the dolls. Many of the kids squealed with delight, “Daddy! Daddy!”

“It’s not just for the kids, it’s also for ‘me’” stated Melissa Rooks, who is also the Family Resilience Coordinator. “To be honest, I give him a squeeze and kiss too.” Melissa’s son Zachary received a Hug-A-Hero Doll five-years ago.  He still keeps it close to him day and night. “Through facial recognition, he remains physically and emotionally attached. It’s so much more powerful than a doll,” concludes Melissa.

The program is spearheaded by the Red Cross with funding from a Walmart grant. This is one program to help families and military members before, during and after deployments. To learn more about our support of military members and Veterans, please visit www.redcross.org/SAF

 

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.