Fire Storm – Community among the Ashes
Part 2 of 3
Thank you for joining me for part two of a three part series called Fire Storm…
Following our narrow escape from the descending Fire Storm we made our way to the City of Chelan and a Red Cross station. Never before experiencing the need to utilize the services of a Red Cross station this was a new venture. I have dealt with various types of critical incidents in the past as the one in charge and with a certain amount of control. So now my wife Kim, our dog Lady, and I suddenly found ourselves on the other side of the equation. As we entered the Red Cross station (Chelan High School) we found it was full of people that were seeking refuge for the night or beyond. There were families with children, adults, emergency responders, beds, food and the like.
We were approached by a Red Cross volunteer who started out by asking us if we wanted some water. I found that this simple question was just what we needed as the reality of the situation started to sink in. The volunteer worked very closely with us to make sure we were okay, provided food, and a place to sleep. There were even toothbrushes. Kim found this out by seeing a 6 year old with a brand new one. The little girl said, “Mine was burned up with my house”. Kim slept inside the shelter and because these types of shelters can’t accommodate pets, Lady and I spent the night in the back seat of the truck. Yes it is possible for one full grown person and a dog to sleep, well sort of, in the back seat of an F-150. Just don’t tell Lady she is a dog.
The response of the community began to come into focus during the night at the Red Cross station. I am very thankful for the service the army of volunteers provided. They knew just what to say and how not to ask questions of people who were in dismay. It was evident that they were highly trained. The next morning we attempted to return to our cabin but were stopped as the fire was still burning and now blocked our access up highway 97 along the Columbia River. After many hours we were finally able to make our way through a smoke-filled and still burning countryside. We were more than relieved to find that the fire had burned to within 200 yards of our home and stopped. We were safe but not yet out of danger.
The fire had destroyed the power poles and lines and had taken down the land line phone system. I was told that in one area the fire burned power lines that were located underground. Now let us discuss what happens when there is no power. No power means no wells; no wells means no water, no water means no toilets; no water means you can’t put out spot fires around your home; no refrigeration, no refrigeration means no food storage so cooking becomes difficult. I think you can start to see the problem especially since the fires were still burning around our homes.
Community is a wonderful thing to experience when the chips are down. You would always hope that your neighbors would come together in a disaster but you don’t know for sure until you experience it firsthand. One example was when a man dropped off a portable generator in my front yard and allowed me to use it for the duration of the event. He was a friend of our neighbor and brought 4 generators from Canada. Another neighbor assisted with the hookup of the generator. Another neighbor provided us with a $1,000.00 fire pump so that we could pump water out of the lake for fire protection. He told me to keep it as it was now mine. Another neighbor brought in a large water pumper truck into the neighborhood to provide extra protection. The list goes on…
The largest single example of community was the aide station that started in the Town of Pateros following the fire. The station started with the cooking of some food that was dropped off at the High School and grew into a service that continues to today. At its height the station provided all daily meals, fellowship (very needed), clothing, banking opportunities, volunteer opportunities, and fire updates. For me I found my time at the station provided a needed relief and connection to the community.
What I learned. Fire and Police resources become overwhelmed quickly when a major event strikes. Calling 911 expecting a response may not be practical. When a major disaster strikes, look to community for support while at the same time provide what support you can in return. When the world takes an unexpected turn, neighbors do unexpected things to help. So here is an emergency management question. Are you ready to take care of yourself if disaster strikes and are you ready to volunteer and help others in need? Preparation only occurs before the need…