Inside the cool gym, a gaggle of kids scramble after colored balls and shoot hoops. Their laughs bounce across the wood floors. It’s summer, the days are theirs to fill with fun and play.
The game changed last weekend when wildfires blasted through the small resort town of Chelan, Washington. Fast-moving blazes destroyed homes and businesses, scorching the hillsides to a charcoal black, and filling the skies with acrid, smoke and ash.
“It was the four of us in a pick up for four days,” says Victor Mata, as he watched his son Hugo play basketball with his cousins inside the elementary school gym. The fires rapidly approached the ridge near his house and Mata had little time to get his family to safety.
“We just hung out in a McDonald’s parking lot, it’s wasn’t easy with the baby,” he added pointing to his 4-month old Galelea, pictured here.
Mata’s wife Briceida said she was highly relieved to be able to go home. But things didn’t get much easier. There was no power, no water, no phone service. With heavy smoke enveloping the area, they had to stay indoors. The heat inside the home soon became unbearable, so Victor got his family to a Red Cross shelter, coincidentally located at the local elementary school where he worked.
Inside, kids play and run, while outside, red flag warnings indicate that the air quality index is pushing toward hazardous levels. “I feel for the kids in this situation, it’s been a tough summer for them, on so many levels," said Amanda Appel, disaster program specialist. "It's great to see them having fun and being kids."