Now that Redding has returned to a state of relative normalcy, we’ve been able to reflect on the Carr Fire and all of its implications. My family was lucky – the fire that destroyed so many homes and devastated livelihoods left us relatively unscathed. We watched as the latest evacuation orders came in, packed a bag and were at the ready to leave.
Like everyone else, we were glued to the news, trying to find updates from the multitude of sources available to us. Once we knew we were clear of the immediate danger, we knew we could not sit idly by, so we joined the ranks of so many other community members and volunteered at one of the local evacuation shelters.
We were put to work. Depending on the needs of the day, we would volunteer at different areas of the shelter. Our task list varied from day to day, moment to moment. At one point, we were put to work answering the phones, and sometimes we felt like we knew less than the callers, directing callers to the various agencies involved – Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc. We worked traffic control, guiding and directing the eternal flow of vehicles – volunteers, refugees, citizens wanting to donate goods and services. We brought water bottles to workers, we helped displaced individuals find their friends and family, we were manual labor helping to unload cots, flats of water, bags of ice, etc. We had no information when people asked us about their homes – we were just as devoid to the specific details as they. We helped bring donated clothes to those who left with just the clothes on their back.
There are some themes that emerged that I feel compelled to share, as we are all no doubt still processing the events of the Carr Fire, while many are still forced to react to the newest emergencies and fires. It has been a trying summer, to say the least.
People are good. So good.
On one of my first days, it was my job to just watch the parking area. Partially to ensure the emergency lane was kept clear, but I learned that it was also to direct the constant influx of people. Some were just evacuated and just needed to park, check-in, and try to sit and take a break to process. There was an incredible amount of people that drove up with donations, armed with only the knowledge that this was a shelter.
At first the donations were the essentials – food, water, blankets, etc. As time progressed, there were secondary needs that were brought in – soap, shampoo, razors, hygiene products, extra clothes. Also, Items I would not have thought about such as contact lens solution and coloring books with crayons for the evacuated families with children. When we ran low on an item, there was a call put out on social media. For example, at one point the kitchen was low on ice, so a Facebook post was made that supplies were low. Within the hour we were called to help unload truckloads of it. Our cup had runneth over. On ice, and human generosity. It was overwhelming.
People are still healing
Large-scale emergencies are things that are read about in the news. They are usually never this close to home. One of our friends was evacuated and came to stay with us. That first night, he relayed his stories of evacuation and helping his neighbors. Some of them were almost frozen with shock, and it was all he could do to have them gather some belongings and get out of the area.
For some, the shock has still not quite worn off. One of my friends lives near Shasta Lake, the town of many evacuations and close calls. She has been jumping at all of the alerts, and ready to go. Recently, at a social gathering, the subject of the Carr Fire arose, and one person retold their story of their home on Quartz Hill road, speaking with the thousand-yard-stare. We knew in that moment she was reliving the episode. These are the kinds of stories that stay with people – the vivid imagery burned to memory.
People are grateful
Signs over freeway overpasses and attached to hedges and fences echo the thoughts of so many in our community. We are in a great debt to so many people, so many unsung heroes that are either under the banner of ‘first responders’ or ‘firefighters’ or any other number of deserving titles. Men and women have been thrown time and time again into the fray, working long intense hours without second thoughts. There is a debt owed community wide that we may never repay, yet those who work in these circumstances are not expecting any kind of extra payment or reward.
Most people who were evacuated were not angry at those who made them leave their homes, they are grateful that they were able to grab pets, photos, and other valuables. On a much smaller scale, we saw and heard the gratitude at the evacuation shelter. One of our jobs was to assist near the showers, distributing towels and toiletries. After the showers, people thanked us and let us know that the shower “made me feel human again.” Such a small act that can so easily be taken for granted helped to grant a sense of humanity.
Thank you to all of the unsung heroes. At our location, basic tasks such as emptying trash cans, cooking food for evacuees and volunteers, keeping bathrooms as clean as possible – these are tasks that were made possible by countless, unidentified heroes. Thank you.
There is no doubt more that I am forgetting. I feel like I am still processing, and there are still more fires and emergencies that break out. I am lucky not only for my little piece of property called home that was unscathed, but also that I was able to help in any capacity. I am so grateful for the opportunity to help those who were not as lucky. Throughout the disaster, I can only reiterate that which has already been said – we are a strong community. To see such kindness, such dedication, such charity is to pull the veil back on a human race that is so often pocked with and remembered by the atrocities.
I am a firm believer that it is equally important to document the triumphs and the collaborations in trying times. This is one such time that we will live through, and grow stronger from. The lessons learned will be utilized in the future. We will rebuild.