A Trip of a Lifetime: American Red Cross Volunteers Help UK Family Displaced by Washburn Fire

“We can’t thank you enough”

Clare Drake

The Washburn Fire was not originally included in the Drake family’s travel itinerary when they began their once-in-a-lifetime trip across the pond from Portsmouth, London. Soon after they checked in to their hotel in Yosemite, their plans quickly changed once the Wawona area was quickly evacuated by a historic wildfire.

They had left the park to go into town and came back to road closures. While many also experienced this, the Drake family had additional concerns. Mike’s epilepsy medication was sitting in their hotel room and their key was in their pockets.

The Drake’s had been in contact with the British Consulate to take care of their passports, but immediately getting the medication was what was most important to them. That’s where the American Red Cross came in.

When the family arrived at the Red Cross evacuation shelter, they shared their situation with Simon, the evening shelter supervisor. Once another volunteer, Gail Mcgaugh arrived, a long chain of events began to help the family due to the potential medical emergency. The shelter team contacted Katrina Poitras, the local Disaster Program Manager, who was at the incident briefing at the park and could connect with Yosemite Park officials and hotel management.

After their shelter shift ended, volunteers Alex Delgado and Jace Dille drove the Drake’s keys from Mariposa to Oakhurst, where another volunteer JR Matchett, met them to take the keys to the park entrance. “This was a full team effort,” explained Poitras, who together worked with Red Cross volunteers, the fire incident command and park rangers to get access to the park and hotel.

When Poitras made it back to the shelter with fully packed luggage, and most importantly the medication, Clare expressed her gratitude for how thorough Katrina had been in gathering their belongings. “She even checked under the pillows!” Clare exclaimed. “We are, and always will be, so grateful for what you all did.”

“This is an example of us being advocates for families, that’s why we do it. It’s the advocacy of the Red Cross. Using our network of partnerships gave us the opportunity to help this family.”

Katrina Poitras, Disaster Program Manager
Katrina Poitras showed Clare, Mike, Mark and Amy a photo of how close the Washburn Fire had gotten to their hotel.

While waiting at the shelter, Mcgaugh chatted with the family about disaster preparedness and how small things can help during an emergency. “We talked about small actions you can do like taking pictures of your medication. They said they would do that right away.”

During disasters, the Red Cross works with local response officials to provide safe shelter, warm meals, emotional support and critical relief supplies, including hygiene items, to those impacted by disasters like the Washburn Fire.

“This is why I love working in the shelters because every volunteer can make a difference. Just taking that extra step to help a person and that alone is life changing for them. Every one of us can make an impact on a person’s experience and give them the opportunity to get past this disaster.”

Gail Mcgaugh, Red Cross Volunteer
The Drake’s with Red Crossers Kat Healy, Gail Mcgaugh and Lori Wilson

Make sure families don’t face tough times alone. Compassionate and committed individuals are needed to support sheltering efforts this disaster season. Train now to be a Red Cross Shelter Volunteer so you can answer the call directly to help those affected by disasters. Sign up at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Story by Taylor Poisall, Regional Communications Director

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