A Red Cross shelter at the Oakhurst Community Center, set up for people affected by the Railroad Fire in Sugar Pine and Fish Camp, closed Thursday, Aug. 31, only to reopen on Sept. 3 to accommodate evacuees from the Mission Fire at Cascadel Woods above the old mill site just east of North Fork, as well as the latest Railroad Fire evacuees from the Cedar Valley and Sky Ranch areas.
Forty-four sought shelter at the filled-to-capacity community center, while another 12 stayed at the Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church in Oakhurst.
Sky Ranch residents Diana Myers and friend David McDonald decided to sleep outside on the lawn, saying their two dogs, Max and Luna, were nervous enough without having to be placed in cages provided by the Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT). The dogs were calm, laying near Myers and McDonald, with a huge bowl of water on a particularly hot, sticky and smokey Labor Day.
“With all the dead trees around, it’s not like we all didn’t see this coming. We knew if there was a fire that got into this area, it would be bad,” Myers said.
“God bless every one of the firefighters,” McDonald added. He then showed a photo taken with his cell phone from their temporary resting spot outside the community center the night before - a photo of flames lighting up the night sky in the distance.
“It looked like the whole mountain was on fire,” Myers said.
Grove residents (near Evergreen Conference Center in Oakhurst) Cheryl and Michael Marsh were packed and ready to go Tuesday, Aug. 29 after Michael, a bus driver for Yosemite High School, was advised he needed to head home. He and Cheryl remained on stand-by until 6 p.m., Sunday evening when they were told to evacuate.
The couple spent Labor Day morning sitting at a picnic bench outside the community center, with Rosie content to be resting nearby. Cheryl was especially emotional and worried about 8-year-old Rosie, who they have raised from a 5-week-old pup. While they were thankful for the good care she is receiving by CCADT volunteers, Cheryl said Rosie doesn’t understand why she is separated from them.
“Though it’s hard not to have Rosie with us, we know she’s being well cared for next door at the pet shelter and we get to spend time with her,” Cheryl said. “The Red Cross has treated us so well. They are very sympathetic and get how emotional this is for those of us who have left our homes.
“I’m so grateful the Yosemite School District sent Mike home Tuesday to pack because when the sheriffs came, they said we had 10 minutes to get out ... that it was too dangerous to stay there. It now looks like we won’t be going home before the weekend, so we were lucky to get the last two cots at the shelter Sunday evening.”
They both expressed gratitude for the sheriff deputy who escorted them back into their home Labor Day afternoon so they could retrieve extra clothing they forgot to pack.
With the explosion of the Mission Fire early Sunday afternoon, the Scharffenberg family of Cascadel Woods had 20 minutes to evacuate, and were able to grab little more than a couple of suitcases filled with clothing (although their son Liam was able to gather his Legos).
The family of five (Kenny, Jessica, Liam, 6, Maggie, 5, and Nolan, 2 1/2) have been staying with friends in North Fork.
“North Fork is a great community,” Jessica said. “People just open their doors to help. We even had people coming from town to try to help us evacuate and they got stuck up there with us for 30 minutes or an hour until the road cleared ... seems like we go through this every summer and it’s just a matter of getting through it and doing what we can.”
Temporarily sheltered at the Oakhurst Community Center, Marcie Tipton and Francis Bates, also North Fork residents, are friends of the Scharffenbergs, and live four miles below Cascadel.
“When the sheriff deputy told us that we had to go, I grabbed a change of clothes and my Bible,” said Tipton, who is wheelchair-bound. “The Red Cross has been wonderful. They gave me a special bed that I can sit up in so I don’t have to lay flat on a cot, which hurts ... and they even fed me breakfast in bed.”
It’s Red Cross volunteer Danial Peck’s responsibility to ensure evacuees are fed.
“Our primary sponsor of food has been Raley’s here in Oakhurst,” Peck said. “Subway has provided lunch, and South Gate Brewing Company plans on providing pulled pork sandwiches. And many many generous people have gone out of their way to bring us water and other items to help ... I’m so glad to be part of the Red Cross organization and to be able to provide any little service that I can.”
Peck said a few evacuees mentioned that while they have seen Red Cross shelters on television, they have never experienced staying at one, and were thankful that the Red Cross was there for them.
“The Oakhurst Community Center may be a building, but the residents, evacuees and Red Cross staff have made it a community,” said Red Cross Public Information Officer Jessica Piffero. “The kids are playing games and blowing bubbles, neighbors are chatting with neighbors, and we are serving up some great meals. I personally eat better at Red Cross shelters than I do at home, and I’ve overheard several of the evacuees say the same thing.”
CCADT is caring for 66 small animals (dogs, cats and one hen) housed at the community center.
Naomi Flam, CEO and founder said the animals have been really good and that she’s surprised at how quiet they’ve been.
“From 1-5 p.m., they can have no visitors,” Flam said. “We close it down so the animals can decompress, to bring down their stress levels.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, five homes in Cascadel Heights were reportedly destroyed by the Mission fire, and at least six homes were reportedly destroyed by the Railroad Fire.