When a firestorm raced through Central Washington, consuming over 380,000 square acres, homes were lost in minutes and many people were suddenly coping with unprecedented challenges. Where to stay? How to get to work? How to get by without power, water, phone or internet access? In small towns with a big sense of community, neighbors came together to help one another, mobilizing effectively and with great generosity. Yet they had limited resources to tackle the scale of the devastation and such a diverse array of urgent needs.
"Every disaster is so different and the short- and long-term impacts that unfold can be so unexpected," said Kari Strain, a local Red Cross volunteer. In response to the disaster, the Red Cross launched a large-scale relief operation to provide for the immediate needs of the residents through emergency shelters, hot meals and health and emotional support. But as days rolled by, different needs began to emerge.
"Having a robust partner network to work with gives you greater opportunities to find creative solutions to provide meaningful help in these fire-affected communities," Strain explained. She and several volunteers were tasked with learning about the local resources available and connecting residents with those services as part of the Red Cross Community Partner Services (CPS) team. Collaborating with local communities, supporters and businesses, as well as government agencies, the Red Cross was able to tackle unexpected and pressing issues.
The Washington State Animal Rescue Team, the Red Cross was able to establish a shelter to accommodate family pets, as it was learned that several families were unwilling to leave their animals regardless of evacuation orders. Clean clothes were also scarce in the smoky aftermath of the fires and communities were without access to water or power. As dirty laundry piles grew larger, the CPS team sought a fix to the problem and found a supportive partner in CenturyLink, a telecommunications provider. Together with the collaboration of two local Laundromats, the Red Cross provided free laundry services over the course of three days.
Pateros, a small town hard-hit by the wildfires, was in great need of incident management assistance which was available through Team Rubicon. With shelter space, showers and hot meals to feed volunteers, the Red Cross supported Team Rubicon, an emergency response organization that draws from the experience of military veterans and first responders.
"We've worked with the Red Cross before and everybody brings something unique to the table," said Sam Kille, public affairs officer for Team Rubicon. The emergency response team, 33 strong, assisted the city of Pateros in debris removal and volunteer management. "It takes time to recover from a disaster," Kille added, "and disaster is not about any one organization, it's about working together and talking to one another, so we can all best meet the needs of the community."
Side by side with the Southern Northwest Baptist Convention, the Red Cross delivered meals to some of the 3,000 first responders who hailed from around the country to lead and support the fire fighting effort. Drawing from both established and newly-founded partner relationships, such as the Department of Health and Social Services and Room One, based in Twisp, the Red Cross also began to strategize an effective long-term recovery plan.
"We are honored to work with the people in these communities, they have such an amazing capacity to come together in a time of crisis. As the communities prepare for the task of long-term recovery, the Red Cross and its partner organizations will be there with them," Strain added.