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Central Oregon Wildfire Response Creates Cultural Experience

Tribal members along with Red Cross volunteers did all the cooking. I learned to make salmon chowder called luckameen and fry bread. It was a bonding experience.

In the early weeks of August, multiple wildfires raged in areas across Oregon. Red Cross teams of trained and committed volunteers responded immediately, opening three shelters in two days to provide a safe place to stay for the hundreds of people evacuated from their homes in Warms Springs, Baker City and John Day.

“We saw balls of fire and a snake of fire heading up the mountain to the same place we were going,” recollects Ann Fenderson, manager at the American Red Cross shelter at the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Community Center Social Hall. Ann and a team of Red Cross volunteers, in tandem with tribal and community leaders, provided meals, snacks and a place to go for area residents who were required to leave their homes when the County Line 2 Fire erupted on August 12.

The hot and dry summer created a tinderbox environment in Oregon and Washington, and fires were in full swing. When Ann and other volunteers arrived in Warms Springs the shelter had already been opened. The next day the operations moved to Madras due to elevated evacuation levels. Two days later conditions were deemed safe and the team returned to Warm Springs.

“It was wonderful to be given the go ahead to return,” said Ann. “The Warm Springs members stepped up to help during those two days. Red Cross tribal liaisons Cheryl Tom, Carolyn Cruz and Tammy Wilson were tremendous in helping us to understand the best ways to deliver our services to the tribal members who came to the shelter.”

Red Cross site director Carrie Sammons and key shelter staff met with tribal leaders to discuss how Red Cross could best fulfill its mission of assisting the people affected by the disaster while recognizing Warm Springs members’ guidelines and cultural needs.

“There was an outpouring of donations and gifts from the community to the tribal members,” said Ann. The Red Cross sorted the donations of canned food and snacks, and clothes and household items were stored with the Tribal Commodity Center. Whatever was there when the shelter closed stayed at the center. The generosity included toys for the children and much-needed towels.

Lynda Holm, another Red Cross volunteer at the shelter says, “We had a lot of help feeding the 100-plus people who came to the center.” In all disaster operations the Red Cross provides three meals a day using donated food and buying the rest from local stores. “Tribal members along with Red Cross volunteers did all the cooking. We ate some amazing food. I learned to make salmon chowder called luckameen and fry bread! It was a bonding experience.”

Along with the basic food delivery services, the Red Cross volunteers staffed the registration desk and provided, where necessary, personal care for the disabled tribal members. “I’m so glad for the training I received at the annual Disaster Academy last spring,” Ann commented, “It helped me to give direct assistance to those in need.”