“Horrible. Horrifying. Unimaginable.” These are the three words that Johnnie Brookwood used to describe the wildfire that drove her out of her home in Greenwood, California. The Dixie Fire, California’s second-largest wildfire in modern history, forced the community to evacuate Wednesday, August 6, 2021, destroying the tiny Northern California mountain town.
Johnnie sought refuge at the American Red Cross shelter in Quincy, Calif. Here she has a safe roof over her head, access to hot meals and relief items. Trained Red Cross volunteers are on hand helping evacuees cope as they await news about whether they will have a home to return to when the fires subside. Volunteers are also replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment, like canes and wheelchairs, that were left behind in the rush to get to safety. A Red Cross health services volunteer was even able to connect Johnnie with a local dentist who provided much-needed dental care.
“I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t stay here. I am so stressed, I can barely remember if I have been here for two weeks or two months,” said the 76-year-old woman. “Everyone is so nice here; sometimes I forget I have lost my home. This has become home. Home is where the heart is.”
Johnnie has indeed made her Red Cross cot into her home. She surrounds herself with the things that she loves, wildflowers, rock collections and her artwork. She enjoys welcoming people “inside her home” to offer them candy and show off her prized possessions. Johnnie tries to always keep a smile on her face.
“Things are bad enough, so I stay as cheerful as possible,” she said. “I think it keeps everyone’s spirits up.”
Like many shelter guests, Johnnie still cannot believe that “this devastation happened” to her and her neighbors. “At first, I didn’t think the fire would affect us at all. I have lived in California since 1982 and have never experienced anything like this,” said Johnnie. “Surely Greenville won’t burn, but then it did.”
Johnnie has called the Red Cross shelter in Quincy home for over two weeks. She knows each volunteer by name and they, in turn, have learned how to keep a smile on her face.
“My colored pencils were no longer sharp enough to color with,” Johnnie noted. “A Red Cross volunteer noticed I hadn’t been working on my art and when she found out about my pencils, she went out and bought me a pencil sharpener. I am grateful to the volunteers. I am grateful to be here, and I am grateful that I am alive.”
Johnnie will stay until she is allowed to go back to the wreckage that once was her home. After that, she doesn’t know what will happen.
Red Cross teams will stay in the community as long as needed, helping those affected by wildfire to begin recovery. Caseworkers will be assigned to follow up with evacuees to continue to support them in the weeks ahead to ensure they are connected to available resources.
Volunteers have been here since early July and will continue to support people like Johnnie affected by the dozens of fires that have forced tens of thousands across multiple states from their homes.
If you would like to learn how you can be a force for good for those impacted by disasters big and small, visit redcross.org/VolunteerToday.