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Mich. volunteer: relief process for survivors of California wildfires "just the beginning"

The sign at the American Red Cross office on Saginaw St. in Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)
Kalamazoo resident Vicki Eichstaedt is volunteering with the Red Cross in California to help people who have been affected by the worst wildfires in a century.

As wildfires across California have continued to cause massive damage this week, some Michigan residents have gone to California with organizations like the Red Cross to help those affected by the fires.

Kalamazoo resident Vicki Eichstaedt is a volunteer for the Red Cross’s Public Affairs team. She's currently in California, helping to take photos of damage done by the Camp Fire. She said the devastation is unlike anything she’s ever seen before.

In addition to photographing the scene, she's also been spending time with people who are living in shelters after being displaced by the fire. 

Eichstaedt said one woman she met told her she was looking after her great-grandsons when her daughter called her from work.

Her daughter said to take the kids and leave the area.

“So she did that, but thought she’d probably have a little time,” Eichstaedt said. “By the time she hit her driveway, the fire was at her back door.”

Eichstaedt said it hasn’t been easy to listen to survivors’ stories of fleeing their homes, but she considers it an honor to be able to offer even a little help.

“As a Red Cross volunteer, for me, that's a huge privilege to be able to be with someone in that moment, to listen, to support, to provide that little bit of human compassion.”

Eichstaedt hasn't heard of anyone able to go back to their homes yet. She says most people’s plans for the immediate future include finding a place to stay in the meantime.

“There is a process in any disaster like this -- there is a process that has to be gone through,” she said. “And it's just beginning.”

Eichstaedt emphasized that fire is extremely unpredictable. She said the Red Cross recommends coming up with a fire preparedness plan, no matter where you live.

Maya Goldman is a newsroom intern for Michigan Radio. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, where she studies anthropology and writing. During the school year, Maya also works as a senior news editor and podcast producer for The Michigan Daily.
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