More than 60 wildfires are burning across the west, scorching more than 670,000 acres, destroying structures and forcing thousands of people to leave their homes. The American Red Cross is on the ground and urges residents who may be impacted by these fires to be prepared to evacuate if needed.
According to the USDA Forest Service, so far this year there have been more than 64,000 fires, consuming more than 4.2 million acres. The Red Cross is responding in Colorado and Utah, providing food, shelter and comfort for those affected. Red Cross disaster workers are working with local, state and federal fire officials to ensure both people forced out of their homes and first responders are getting the help they need.
SCOUTS TAKE SHELTER This week a group of scouts from Garden City, Kansas escaped the Spring Fire in southern Colorado and found safe haven at a Red Cross shelter in Walsenburg. The scouts, ranging in age from six to 20, had been camped for the past three weeks at the Spanish Peaks Boy Scout Ranch about 17 miles southeast of La Veta with eight adult leaders — and thought they were well away from the fiery danger to the west. Then the monster Spring Fire took a turn.
“They could see the actual fire line,” said Red Cross volunteer Julia Stamper, Fort Collins, “and knew it was time to leave.” Stamper said they arrived at the shelter safely, but had to evacuate on short notice — with their clothes, tents and backpacks left back at the camp. A sheriff’s deputy came to the shelter around midnight with the news the group would be coming, according to shelter volunteer Pat Fahey.
“He said we’d have roughly 50 coming in, so we started pulling out cots and then volunteers brought more cots from our La Veta shelter.” The group of 34 arrived at the shelter around 1:00 a.m., Fahey said.
“It was pretty amazing,” Stamper added. “They’d been woken up at the camp and were tired, but all the kids chipped in helping with the cots and blankets. Then they all crashed and went back to sleep.”
Fahey, from Canon City, has only been with the Red Cross for a month and a half, but said he’s had plenty of experience with disasters. “I was in the National Guard for six years,” he said, “and been to both floods and fires. I’m used to taking people to the shelters, though, so it feels good to see it from the other side and see how they’re taken care of once they’re here.”
WILDFIRE SAFETY STEPS
People in the path of these fires should get their emergency kit ready now in case they have to evacuate. Pack the following in an easy-to-carry container:
One gallon of water per person, per day – include a three-day supply.
A battery-powered or hand crank radio
Sanitation and personal hygiene items
Copies of important papers, list of medications, proof of address, deed or lease to your home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies
A cell phone and charger
Family and emergency contact information
Maps of the area
Any medical or baby supplies family members may need
Manual can opener
If you are coming to a shelter, bring your emergency kit, bedding, clothing, medications and your child’s stuffed animal or blanket.
IF A FIRE OCCURS Listen to your local media for updates on the fire and be ready to leave quickly. Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing your direction of escape. You should also:
Keep your pets in one room so you can find them quickly if you have to evacuate.
Arrange for a temporary place to stay outside the threatened area.
Keep your indoor air clean – close windows and doors to prevent the smoke outside from getting in your home.
Use the recycle mode on the air conditioner in your home or car. If you don’t have air conditioning and it’s too hot to be inside, seek shelter somewhere else.
If smoke levels are high, don’t use anything that burns and adds to air pollution inside such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.
AFTER THE FIRE Don’t go home until fire officials say it is safe. Be cautious entering a burned area – hazards could still exist. Avoid damaged or downed power lines, poles and wires. Other things to do include:
Keep your animals under your direct control. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn them.
Wet down debris to minimize breathing dust particles.
Wear leather gloves and shoes with heavy soles.
Throw out any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
Recheck for smoke or sparks throughout your home for several hours after the fire, including in your attic. Wildfire winds can blow burning embers anywhere so check for embers that could cause a fire.
DOWNLOAD RED CROSS APPS The Red Cross app “Emergency” can help keep you and your loved ones safe by putting vital information in your hand for more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts. The Red Cross First Aid App puts instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies at your fingertips. Download these apps by searching for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store or at redcross.org/apps.