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How to Help Red Cross Aid Fire Victims

The Red Cross has set up six emergency shelters in Montana so far this season, one indication that this fire season has been a barn-burner.

It’s been a miserable fire season in Montana. Just look outside to spy the air quality.

Forests, grasslands and wild animals have burned, people have been uprooted, and the Montana chapter of the American Red Cross has been stretched thin.

The Red Cross has set up six emergency shelters in Montana so far this season, one indication that this fire season has been a barn-burner.

Diane Wright, executive director of the Montana Red Cross, said, “It’s been one of the busiest we’ve had in a number of years.”

The agency has provided shelter, food and other necessities into the thousands from northwest Montana to the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

“At one point we were serving over 400 people,” after residents were evacuated from Heart Butte to Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Wright said Tuesday.

The Red Cross has had help from plenty of groups along the way, including the Salvation Army, animal welfare groups and the Blackfeet Tribe, as well as individuals, businesses and communities that have provided displaced people with essentials. But keeping up has been a challenge.

“One fire settles down and we immediately get a call for the next one,” Wright said. “It’s sort of depleted our supplies.”

Here are ways to help:

•Cash donations. The Red Cross finds financial contributions work best, enabling the group to buy needed items locally, where the emergency is taking place, Wright said. “That would be the best way to help us,” she said, “so we’re ready to respond to the next disaster.” Donations can be made online at http://www.redcross.org/mt/billings, or mailed to Red Cross of Montana, 1300 28th St. S., Great Falls, MT 59405, or taken to that address on the third floor of the office building.

•Volunteer project. Do a volunteer project at work, at a service club or with friends to create comfort kits. In the kits are a washcloth, small shampoo, small conditioner, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, tissue pack and a small lotion. The kit also can include a disposable razor, with shaving cream or gel for an adult; a kit for a child sometimes includes a stuffed toy.

•Volunteer your time. “We are always looking for volunteers,” Wright said. Late Friday night, the Red Cross received a call about evacuations from Heart Butte, and volunteers were already on the road to Browning early Saturday morning. The group is looking especially for retired nurses, who can help displaced people obtain medication and other medical care they might need.

Wright said people donating specific items such as gasoline gift cards can create problems, since it’s hard to know which disaster victims should receive the help when the supply is limited.

Fires are the most frequent disaster to which the Red Cross responds, whether it’s in reaction to the Spotted Eagle fire near Heart Butte, or a house fire in Dutton, Conrad or Great Falls.

“That is our number one call for help,” she said. Flooding also is fairly common in Montana.

Consider contributing to this emergency agency, or volunteering, or putting comfort baskets together.

Our hats off to agencies helping during this difficult fire season, and all the firefighters giving their all.

Let’s hope moisture in the coming days will take some of the bite out of those smoke generators.

— Tribune editorial board