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Red Cross Government Liaison Jon Grasle Recounts His Experience at the Eagle Creek Fires

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Everywhere people joined in to show their support.

During last summer’s unprecedented wildfire season, I had the opportunity to work as a Red Cross Government Liaison at the Eagle Creek fires.  It’s my job to work with local agencies to handle logistics in situations like this.  For instance, I participated in briefings that included three fire departments in the Hood River community, along with police and sheriff’s officers, meteorologists, ODOT, hospital administrators, and numerous other organizations that were all trying to hammer out the best way to stop the fires and help residents.  There was also a special team of responders experienced in dealing with catastrophic fires that arrived from Arizona to help.  I’ve been deployed to other fire scenes, such as the Alder Hotel fire recently, and I thought I was ready to face the Oregon wildfires.  But nothing prepared me for what I experienced at the Eagle Creek fires.
The Eagle Creek fires would eventually consume 32,000 acres and engage nearly 1,000 firefighters, so you might think the most impressive thing I witnessed was disastrous fire.  After all, it jumped the Columbia river.  Then there was the choking smoke.  And the wind that fanned the fires dangerously close to Highway 84, which had to be closed for two weeks.  These things were certainly dramatic.  

But the thing I wasn’t prepared for, and what I will never forget, was the tremendous outpouring of help and support from the Hood River community. It was humbling. Volunteers and donations arrived daily. Individuals and businesses delivered enormous quantities of food, water, toiletries, clothing, towels, books, pet food, supplies, and so on. The Red Cross and first responder organizations fielded hundreds of calls from additional individuals and businesses offering to provide meals, lodging, transportation, nursing---anything they could do to help.  

Everywhere people joined in to show their support.  For instance, hikers along the Pacific Coast Trail came to the shelter to help.  There were signs posted outside people’s homes that read “We Love Our Firefighters!”  Their human spirit was greater than the devastating fires.  The support was gratifying and kept us going.
We had a barn set up adjacent to the Red Cross shelter to house displaced animals: goats, chickens, turtles, cats, dogs.  If it bleated, clucked, snapped, barked or meowed, we found a place for it.  

And here again, volunteers demonstrated their compassion by feeding the animals and keeping them clean.  Volunteers provided 24-hour care and supervision.

Businesses too were quick to jump in and help.  Walmart and Costco, for instance, donated 20,000 bottles of water.  It was tremendous, and we were so grateful.  
Sometimes the support came at unexpected times and places.  One day while I was on my way to the Red Cross shelter, I stopped at McDonald’s for lunch.  The employee at the counter noticed my Red Cross lanyard and thanked me for all that Red Cross was doing. He proudly pointed to a sign they had posted that read “100% of your donation will go to the American Red Cross Fire Relief Fund” and insisted on discounting my lunch purchase. 
As I sat down to eat, the Assistant Manager stopped by my table and said their franchise owner wanted to meet me and was on his way.  He arrived within minutes. The restaurant owner thanked me for the work the Red Cross was doing and said he wanted to help.  I was flabbergasted when he donated 100 gift certificates, redeemable for meals at any of the five local McDonald’s restaurants.  Then he really overwhelmed me when he gave me a very generous check payable to the American Red Cross. 

I thanked him for his kindness and generosity.  I thanked the employees who were also making donations to the Red Cross. When shelter residents received their gift certificates, they were very appreciative as well.  When you lose almost everything and are in the middle of a life-changing crisis, something simple like a free meal at McDonald’s can lift your spirits and make a difference. 
It took incredible effort from all the responders to bring the fires under control and to stop the spread of destruction.  All the responders deserve our praise, our thanks.  It may be that over time my memories of the Eagle Creek fires themselves will fade, but I’ll never forget the warmth and generosity of the Hood River community---from the dedicated and selfless responders to the outpouring of support from local citizens.  And, in particular, the employees and management at McDonald’s. Thank you all.