Beginning July 8, 2014, a series of destructive wildfires flared throughout the north central Washington region. This resulted in the largest fire in state history, impacted seven counties, burned more than 363,000 square acres and destroyed more than 360 homes.
As wildfires raged, a severe windstorm struck further east, in Spokane, and destroyed 53 homes. Simultaneously responding to both disasters, Red Cross teams:
-Opened 18 shelters
-Operated 12 fixed feeding sites and served nearly 45,000 meals and snacks
-Established 5 bulk distribution sites to distribute more than 6,000 items
-Provided casework assistance to 680 individuals
-Provided health and emotional support contacts to more than 2,000 people impacted residents.
It was an unusually devastating summer in our state and local residents, businesses and community organizations gave generously to support the Red Cross at a time when it was needed most. With these donations, we provided critical aid to disaster-impacted residents as soon as it was needed as well as ongoing support as they continue the long road to recovery. Thank you to everyone who supported this disaster relief effort.
Partner Collaboration Advances Recovery for All
Six months later, the recovery phase in this rural, remote and mountainous region demands ongoing determination and diligence. To help all households in fire-impacted communities move forward, the Red Cross is working together with a local Long-Term Recovery Group, a coalition of community and grassroots organizations from across north central Washington.
“The wildfire disaster was unique and this region is challenging with communities spread out and enormous distances to cover,” said Amanda Appel, Red Cross disaster program specialist. “We need to be persistent in order to reach everyone as well as be creative and flexible to provide meaningful help.”
Wood-burning stoves are the main source of heat for many local homes, Appel explains, so the Red Cross provided firewood and other winterizing assistance to keep homes and families warm through the winter until they are ready to rebuild in spring. The Red Cross also provided support for costs associated with moving, relocating mobile homes, renting storage units, new housing rentals, and utility hook ups.
“We continue to find people who need help and don’t know what the Red Cross could do for them, so I help them better understand the scope of what is available,” says Jessica Martin, a disaster case manager with the Okanogan County Community Action Council. The council is one of the members of the Long-Term Recovery Group and has been a key partner with the Red Cross.
Martin notes that in a community where most residents live off the grid, a hot-burning wildfire leads to unexpected challenges in the recovery effort. “All the well, cistern and septic lids simply melted.” This was a critical need to address as local residents would have had large expenses on their hands to replace or repair these items. “This was a key gap to fill and the Red Cross met that gap,” Martin said.
Red Cross Ready: Alert and Prepared for Secondary Impacts
The wildfires left vast expanses of terrain and hillsides bare. When heavy rains arrive in the spring, experts predict that flooding and mudslides are not far behind.
“Communities already hard-hit by the devastating wildfires will be even more vulnerable and have fewer resources to cope,” explained Amanda Appel, Red Cross disaster program specialist.
Recognizing that these secondary impacts represent a serious threat, the Red Cross has collaborated with local communities to strengthen the existing volunteer corps to ensure they are ready to respond if and when another disaster strikes. In the Methow Valley, the Red Cross has recently established a broader group of core volunteers. Focus is now being placed on expanding volunteer groups in Omak and Okanogan.
During a disaster, volunteers can assist with critical components of the relief operation from staffing evacuation shelters and driving food or relief supplies in to communities to connecting with local organizations and businesses to learn what resources are available for the families hit hardest. All Red Cross training is provided to volunteers at no cost.
“With trained volunteers, these communities will be more prepared and resilient should secondary impacts hit,” Appel said.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, call (509) 663-3907 or visit www.redcross.org/volunteer