American Red Cross of Alaska responded to a devastating three-alarm fire in Mountain View on Thursday, September 19 -- just a short distance from the Anchorage office.Disaster Program Manager Melissa Himes received the page from the fire department and immediately gathered team of workers from the office and loaded up the vehicle with comfort supplies.
When Red Cross disaster workers arrived on the scene, the Anchorage Fire Department was actively battling the blaze of the 38-unit apartment complex. Residents huddled together for warmth behind the police tape, feeling disbelief that their homes and possessions were burning before their eyes. Many had escaped before the fire engulfed their apartment, some were notified and rushed back from work, others were students returning home from school, but everyone was asking, "What are we going to do now?"
The Red Cross red vests arriving on the sidewalk offered residents hope in a moment of chaos and loss. One volunteer immediately set up a table with water and snacks for the exhausted firemen. Other volunteers greeted the crowd to let displaced families know that "Red Cross is here." Blankets were given to those who hurried out of their home without a coat.
As flames burst in another wing of the apartment building, it was quickly evident that this was no ordinary fire, and that few or no apartments would be salvageable. Disaster workers talked with residents, learning names, phone numbers, and whether they had a place to stay for the night. As they got to know the fire victims, they learned that many units housed more than one family. A quick tally of the number of mailboxes in the building counted 38 units. This would mean nearly 100 fire victims. That's when the decision to open a shelter was made.
A shelter opened at the Fairview Rec Center, where the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle and a trailer filled with shelter supplies were waiting. Staff of the Fairview Rec Center posted signs letting overnight guests know that the center would be closed to the public until further notice. Red Cross shelter signs were posted, transforming a multi-purpose room into a Red Cross dining hall, and the gym floor into a community bedroom.
37 people stayed that first night at the Red Cross shelter. 45 stayed a second night.
Today, Red Cross workers plan for the shelter to remain open until at least Wednesday. "We are getting housing applications filled out and long-term plans made," said Sallie Perkins, Shelter Manager and longtime Red Cross volunteer, "but we want to make sure people are set up with homes before we think about closing."
Fire victims have been given the resources by Red Cross to buy clothing and winter garments, replace medications, find housing, and get back on their feet. Thank you to our devoted volunteers and community partners who make it possible for the Red Cross to offer comfort and hope.