Alicia Dorr’s 1st Deployment to the California Wildfires was ‘Exceptional’ in Many Ways

Alicia Dorr recently returned from her first deployment in northern California with a deeper appreciation for working a disaster relief and response operation.  

As regional communications manager for the American Red Cross Michigan Region, Alicia produces content for the Region’s website and blog, its social media channels and facilitates news coverage with local news outlets. During her deployment, she assisted the onsite Red Cross communications team in producing blog and social media content and photos and video for the Red Cross Gold Country Region and coordinating interviews with local news outlets about the Red Cross’ response and relief efforts in communities affected by wildfires.  

“My deployment was exceptional in ways that I expected and in ways I had no way to anticipate. From the moment I found out I was headed to the wildfires in California, it was like it was sort of like boarding a roller coaster,” Alicia said. “I was on a plane in less than 12 hours and flying across the country before I could catch my breath. I was ready for this but nervous as all get out.”

During the second week of her deployment, she experienced the Red Cross relief and response operation from a different vantage. This work involved writing press releases and media advisories and doing more interviews with media. She worked closely with the Red Cross communications team to plan story coverage for the day which included profiling Red Cross disaster volunteers who were providing comfort and care to those impacted.

Because of her role, Alicia observed up close the teamwork and collaboration that goes into executing a Red Cross relief and response operation. This was especially evident when it came to community partnerships and ensuring that the Red Cross was meeting people and their needs where they were at. 

“The country itself is hard to describe – beautiful doesn’t do it justice. It was breathtaking. But it isn’t just the gorgeous mountains and open skies, it’s the sharing of new perspectives and seeing how people live, work and play in a different part of the states,” Alicia said. “You get to learn about the communities you serve alongside some of the most interesting volunteers you can ever meet. People often say that it takes a special type of person to volunteer with the Red Cross – I think it just takes a really big heart.”

Alicia said most of the residents she spoke with had been staying in a Red Cross shelter for at least two weeks. Some of these same people had been evacuated in years past for other disasters, too. “Everyone was so grateful for the Red Cross being here,” she said. “They were equally grateful when they started to get notices that the evacuation orders were being lifted. Some people lost everything in the fires. Others didn’t know what to expect when they went home.”

Alicia met one woman who told a funny yet incredible story about her family’s evacuation. A bear had made its way into their home and used the living room floor as a “latrine”. With the woman’s permission, she shared the story with local TV stations, pointing out that the Red Cross is there to help no matter the circumstances of a disaster.

One resident told Alicia about how Red Cross nurses helped her family and their dog with special needs. ”It  was impressive to witness the kindness and professionalism demonstrated by these nurses and Red Cross volunteers,” Alicia said.

Alicia accompanied teams to the sites of the Mosquito and Mill fires and witnessed the path of destruction.  They stopped at a market in the middle of a small town. “

“The acrid smell of the fire was still strong,” Alicia said. “The tall pines stood out like match sticks and it was easy to imagine how the fire could jump from one tree to another in seconds. We met firefighters in the area and one commented on how the charred woodlands was a perfect classroom for helping residents understand wildfires.”

Near the site of the Mill Fire, the team reached a small city where Mount Shasta’s snowy peak loomed. “This fire was much different,” she said.

It was called the Mill fire because it started at the local lumber mill. The entire area of Lincoln Heights, a historically black neighborhood, was reduced to rubble in a matter of minutes. One man Alicia interviewed had limited mobility and was bedridden at home at the time the fire erupted. He said he is alive today because his friends alerted firefighters to rescue him. Alicia interviewed a woman who recounted the touching story of finding her father’s ashes still intact in his urn after the fire destroyed her home.

“She takes him everywhere with her now,” Alicia said.

Some families in this community had lived in these homes for generations, and lost everything. While facing a long road to recovery, they were immensely grateful for the Red Cross and the comfort and care provided.

On the way back to Sacramento (Alicia’s last night in California), the team stopped at a Red Cross chapter headquarters where she was introduced to a volunteer who was heading to the Hurricane Ian disaster in Florida. It was her first deployment, too.

“This experience made me incredibly proud to be a part of the Red Cross and its mission,” Alicia said.

Volunteer today – visit for opportunities!

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