How Preparedness Made a Difference During a Wildfire Evacuation

By Taylor Poisall and Dave Wagner, Red Cross Communications

Bernard and Lynda Brown moved to the Mariposa mountains from the Bay Area just over a year ago. After being forced from their home by the Oak Fire, they found themselves at a Red Cross evacuation shelter. “I looked out the garage door and everything was orange,” recalled Bernard. “We tried to warn all the neighbors, but then it was just time to go. We threw our pre-packed bags in the car and got out as we saw the smoke over the hill.”

Less than three weeks before the Oak Fire began, their Lushmeadows community had an association meeting with CalFire, Red Cross, Central California Animal Disaster Team and other organizations about wildfire preparedness. Looking back, the event couldn’t have come at a better time for the Brown’s. Lynda was on vacation that following week and took the time to pack a suitcase each of their clothing, toiletries and other things they could “never unpack unless we needed to. We already have things we want to add to our go-bags,” shared Lynda.

During that wildfire preparedness discussion, the preparedness experts also shared the differences between evacuation warnings and orders and when to act. When they saw the flames and the alerts of evacuation warnings, “I just didn’t want to wait [for the order]. So we left right away,” explained Lynda.

While at the shelter, Lynda shared that “it helps to be taken care of when you go through this kind of experience. It’s just nice that the primary care is being offered, you know, it really is helpful and soothing to have that – just to know it’s there and nobody’s questioning you. You don’t have to worry about pulling your money out and all that kind of stuff. It’s such a hardship for so many. We’re just grateful that we’re here together and we’re safe. That’s all that matters. This [the Red Cross] is a really special service.”

The Brown’s thankfully were able to return to their home six days after the were first evacuated. The news was bittersweet as they had built a community within the shelter with their neighbors, but they were grateful to go home. They were comfortable at the shelter, but there is no place like home after all.

As they were leaving the shelter, Lynda said, “this experience has been amazing. We’ve been telling friends and family to donate to the Red Cross after we realized exactly what you do. It was miraculous how fast you all responded and started to help our community.”

“It is a very safe place and you will be very well taken care of, even your animals that you love. It’s a nice place to go away from home when you can’t be there. It’s just like being at home.”

Bernard Brown
“You guys are my favorite people now.” – Bernard Brown
It takes just three simple steps to help prepare your household for potential disasters like wildfires — 1) Get a Kit. 2) Make a Plan. 3) Be Informed. During National Preparedness Month, learn how to Be Red Cross Ready.

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