Written by Ashley Henyan, Digital Communications Manager at the American Red Cross, Los Angeles region, and originally appeared on Red Cross LA Talks. Photos by Debi Moraza.
During the week of December 3-9, George Stanley spent several nights in a Red Cross Evacuation Shelter in Pacoima, in order to escape the deadly flames of the Creek Fire that tore through his neighborhood near Sunland, California. He arrived with nothing but the clothes on his back—no cell phone, no glasses and no watch. Having to leave his home left George feeling shocked and physically ill. However, after hearing what happened in the moments just before the fire roared through, it is now clear that George is extremely lucky just to be alive.
It was late afternoon, around 4 or 4:30 pm, and in the distance, George could see the fire jumping the 210 freeway, about 2/3 of a mile away. Within moments he saw spot fires popping up all over the green shrubbery just on the other side of his property. At first, he couldn’t see any embers but, all of a sudden spot fires were all over—even on his very own property! In the distance, he could now see Gibson Horse Ranch smoking. Almost instantaneously, the hay barn started spewing huge amounts of very thick, black smoke.
At that moment, George decided to check the other side of his property. He walked around the side of his home and instantly felt an intense wave of heat. He looked over his fence and staring right back at him was a long, bright, white line of fire complete with huge, bright orange flames. It was only 200 feet away and the flames were rapidly racing toward him.
Within seconds, the fire was right in front of his face. George ran to the other side of his yard, where he kept an emergency fire hose. But, when he turned the hose on, only a trickle of water came out. By this time, the red-hot embers began striking his face. He turned away from the flames and ran to the garage in hopes of saving his custom car or his old Cadillac, but the heat was too intense to even approach the garage door. In an attempt to save himself and not his cars, he ran back into his home. There, he ran right into a fireman. The fireman, shocked that someone was still on the property, grabbed George and begged him to not re-enter the house. For a moment, a moment of complete shock, George resisted and pleaded with the fireman to be able to enter his home to save his valuables. The fireman persisted, held onto George and forcefully walked him down his long driveway. Once at the bottom of the driveway, George was told to continue walking down the hill, away from the fire.
George obeyed, and although he was in a state of utter dismay, continued walking down the road. He walked until he could walk no more and eventually, sat down on the edge of the curb. Now, well after 5:00 pm and after it had gotten dark outside, a neighbor George knew from church saw him sitting alone on the side of the road and brought him into the Red Cross Branford Shelter.
George had never been in an emergency situation where he had to stay in a shelter and sleep on a cot. But within a few hours of being at the Red Cross shelter, he began to feel more comfortable. One volunteer gave him a pair of reading glasses and others made sure he had warm meals and water. Eventually, we asked George how he was feeling, to which he replied, “I feel great here—been treated so fairly and shown a lot of concern. I’ve had more helpfulness here than from anyone, anywhere so far. You have given me a place to sleep and plenty of blankets, so I was nice and warm. I got these glasses, good meals and even a new t-shirt so I could at least change my shirt. I really feel bad for what everyone has lost.”