In October 2017, rapidly growing wildfires kindled across several Northern California counties—including the deadly Tubbs Fire, which swept through neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, California, with little warning in the early morning hours of October 9. These conflagrations were the first in a series of devastating blazes that—along with subsequent catastrophic debris flows—impacted residents across Northern and Southern California through the fall and early winter.
The American Red Cross, with our strong community presence, local knowledge and national network of volunteers and supporters, provided on-the-scene relief for Californians as they coped with mandatory evacuations and heartbreaking losses. As the smoke cleared, we have continued to stand with wildfire survivors throughout the affected regions, providing ongoing support for recovery as they pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives.
Trained case workers met with impacted individuals and families, giving them a chance to share their most urgent needs and ask questions. In some situations, the Red Cross also provided financial support for necessities like apartment deposits, clothes and food, or to cover immediate transportation expenses. We are currently helping affected residents locate available services and resources to get back on their feet, as well as working with partner case managers that can help them create individual recovery plans.
Recovering from disasters of this magnitude can be a challenging and time-consuming process. In the months ahead, the Red Cross will continue working alongside our partners, including government agencies, other non-profit groups, faith-based organizations, area businesses and others, to coordinate ongoing relief and recovery efforts for people with unmet needs.'
The Red Cross is supporting local Long-Term Recovery Groups across California to identify the most pressing concerns of the impacted communities. We are also planning to make additional financial assistance available for wildfires survivors with the greatest needs and identifying potential grant partnerships to support community-based longer-term recovery efforts, such as funding housing opportunities for affected individuals and families.
For Sam and Mickie Orchard, last fall’s wildfires came with little warning. On Sunday, October 8, the Santa Rosa residents had just packed their bags for a vacation. Instead, shortly after 2 a.m. that Monday morning, upon learning that a fast-moving wildfire was threatening their Neilson Ranch neighborhood, the couple made an unplanned trip to a local Red Cross shelter.
Not everyone got out in time. October’s devastating wildfire outbreak in Northern California took more than 40 lives and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes. Raging fires engulfed entire communities and forced more than 90,000 people across several counties to evacuate. In December, another series of wildfires struck—this time in Southern California. More than 230,000 people fled their homes, and the blazes caused significant damage across the region. The record-breaking Thomas Fire consumed more than 280,000 acres and claimed two lives. What’s more, subsequent heavy rains caused debris flows on fire-scorched hillsides, bringing even more destruction to Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. These fast-moving flows of mud and debris caused at least 21 confirmed deaths, mostly in and around hard-hit Montecito.Thousands of residents like Sam and Mickie Orchard fled these disasters with little more than the clothes on their backs.
To help residents coping with stressful evacuations and heartbreaking personal losses, Red Cross volunteers and employees joined our local partners to open safe shelters where displaced residents could find food, relief items, information, health services and emotional support. And when residents could safely return to their homes or sift through the ashes that remained, Red Cross disaster workers visited impacted communities in emergency response vehicles, delivering food, water and wildfire relief kits with rakes, shovels, masks, gloves and more cleanup essentials.Though they didn’t know at the time if their home was still standing, Sam and Mickie Orchard were grateful for the help they received from the Red Cross following their harrowing escape. “My lord, they’ve done everything for us,” Mickie said. “They gave us a place to sleep, food to eat, and even helped us with our prescriptions.”“Everybody here has been so wonderful,” Sam added.