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Like we were the only people in the world

Red Cross of Montana Wildfire Disaster Story
The Red Cross volunteers were just fantastic.

At 11 p.m. 69-year-old Carol Dibbern was getting ready to call it a night when her daughter-in-law came over with news that sent her heart racing.

The lightning-ignited Gibraltar Ridge Fire was baring down on their Sherman Creek Road home about 25 minutes outside of Eureka.

“I looked up the hill and saw the flames coming,” said Dibbern, who had moved to Montana about a year earlier from Massachusetts. “I was scared to death. I had never experienced a wildfire before so when I saw it around the back of the house it was terrifying.

“When they told us to get out and get out now it was a half mile away.”

A short time later, Dibbern, her husband Keith and her daughter-in-law Jib loaded up their three dogs, jumped in their cars and headed for a Red Cross shelter at the Eureka Church of God in Eureka.

They arrived at about 2 a.m. at what would be their new home for the next seven days.

“It was all a totally new experience. I didn’t know what to expect,” Carol said. “None of us did.”

Stressed and exhausted, they were welcomed with open arms.

“The Red Cross volunteers were just fantastic,” Carol said. “They dropped everything and made you feel right at home. There were shower facilities, bathrooms, anything you wanted to drink like water, Gatorade, juice and all kinds of snacks. They even had games and puzzles. We had somebody sitting there all night to keep watch over us.”

The Dibberns were able to sleep through the rest of that night and into the next afternoon.

Their dogs spent the first night in the car, but by the next day it was clear it was too hot for them. A shelter volunteer quickly made arrangement for the dogs to be picked up and taken to a local animal shelter free of charge.

“Everything was ‘don’t worry we’ll handle it,’” Carol said. “They just took over.

“It was like we were the only people in the world. Talk about feeling like a king and queen,” she said. “The volunteers talked to you with so much warmth and heart. They even played games with you to tried to take your mind off of what was going on.”

The Gibraltar Ridge Fire burned more than 3,600 hundred acres but fortunately the Dibberns’ home and the home of their son and daughter-in-law were spared.

“Everything goes through your mind, what if you lose your house, what if we lose that, we forget to bring this,” Carol said. “They eased our minds and made sure we had reports of the fire all the time. They made sure they had everything posted, every last iota of information transferred to us.”

The Dibberns also credit the entire Eureka community for stepping up when they needed it most with items like soap and socks, towels and pillows, razor blades and other toiletries. A local hardware store even brought in fans and air conditioners to keep them cool during the stifling heat.

The Eureka shelter is just one of 11 shelters the Red Cross of Montana has opened since July in response to state’s prolific wildfire season. Red Cross has 15 trailers positioned across Montana with the equipment needed to shelter between 100 and 250 people each. Volunteers team are always at the ready, prepared to jump in at a moment’s notice.

“Red Cross volunteers have been working around the clock to provide food, comfort, shelter and hope to those evacuated from this year’s severe wildfires,” Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer Colleen Tone said. “We are only able to do this because of our dedicated volunteers.”

Help those affected by wildfires by making a donation at redcross.org/montana or calling 800-272-6668. Contributions may also be sent to American Red Cross of Montana, 1300 28th St. S., Great Falls, MT 59405.

Financial contributions are preferred because they allow the Red Cross to purchase exactly what is needed for a disaster relief operation. Monetary donations also enable the Red Cross to buy supplies close to the disaster site, which avoids delays and transportation costs. Because the affected community often experiences significant economic loss, purchasing relief supplies close to the disaster site helps to stimulate the weakened local economy.

Carol Dibbern said she will never forget the kindness and generosity she and her family experienced those seven days in early August in what could have been an extremely traumatic time.

“We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun,” she said. “They made you feel right at home. I’m just so thankful they were there for us.”

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.