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Positive Stories Come Out of Difficult Times
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Alan Tobey
July 16, 2008

California wildfire relief efforts have shifted from the emergency phase to the recovery phase and the Red Cross has opened a service center and two direct distribution sites to help meet the disaster-caused needs of those affected by the wildfires. While many residents are well on their way to recovery, the memories of their ordeal are still fresh in their minds. Thankfully, stories of help and hope have emerged, making this difficult time just a little bit easier.

In Search of the Lost Campground

The sudden flare-up of wildfires in Butte County, California on the night of July 7, required 3,700 residents in the towns of Paradise, Concow and Camelot to evacuate suddenly after midnight.   More than 50 of those evacuees fled to nearby Loafer State Park with tents or trailers - where they temporarily became the Lost Campground, unknown to emergency services.

Three days later, a California Fire captain reported to the Red Cross shelter in nearby Oroville that these evacuees had been totally without support.  The Red Cross responded immediately, sending a vehicle loaded with drinks, sandwiches and snacks to the evacuees' location within an hour.

"We were glad we could get there right away," said Red Cross shelter manager Mary Baugh. "These people have many needs beyond basic food and shelter.  Several people - such as a family with a two-year old in fragile health and an 8 1/2-month pregnant young woman with an at-risk baby - really need additional assistance.  We encouraged them to come into the shelter, where they'd receive much more comprehensive attention, including health status evaluations and counseling. And we’ll make sure a Red Cross nurse pays a visit to the campground soon."

Once the Lost Campground had been found, the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center in Chico added it to the outbound food distribution list.  Campground residents are now receiving daily hot meals until it is again safe for them to return to their home community.  Those who have suffered a major loss from the fire will receive individual family counseling and evaluation. Red Cross family service workers will help them develop a recovery plan and may be able to provide additional assistance based on verified disaster-caused needs.

Young Fire Victim Brings Help and Hope to Shelter Residents

Fourteen-year-old Kris Wilson and his family had to evacuate within minutes on July 7, taking only a few possessions. Two days later, as temporary residents of the American Red Cross shelter at Las Plumas High School in Oroville, the family learned that their home and two trailers had been totally destroyed.

Kris and his family were at first plunged into despair.  But Kris didn't let it get him down for long.  He soon turned himself into volunteer-in-chief in the shelter.  Pitching in wherever he was needed, he involved himself in many shelter tasks each day, from helping with feedings to washing cots for reuse to hauling trash.

Kris, a high school student, first thought that keeping busy would just be a good way to stop thinking about his loss. But he says other Red Cross volunteers showed him how to think about others, too.  "When I saw how much Red Cross people give to others," Kris said, “I figured out I had more to give myself."

So he was soon involved in "trying to get peoples' hopes up" by being cheerful and active and asking individuals how he could help them.  Shelter manager Mary Baugh says that "Young Kris is setting a perfect example even for our adult volunteers."

With their former home burned to the ground, Kris relates that "my grandpa says we're never going back there."  But when the Red Cross provides them individual family assistance, Kris's family hopes to make a workable plan to start over. Kris has already proven he can take on a lot of the responsibility for family support.

Sitting down for a brief rest, Kris reflected on what he has learned about helping others:  "Your house may be gone, but you can still be happy."

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.

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