The summer of 2014 brought the most destructive wildfires in Washington state history. The firestorm that swept through Central Washington consumed 363,000 acres and hundreds of homes and decimated infrastructure across the region, creating unprecedented challenges.
One year on, the summer of 2014 is one few will forget. Yet this year, the region is preparing for worse. Wildfires have already ignited in Central Washington, forcing thousands of Wenatchee residents to flee their homes.
“Experience has shown us that we cannot overstate the value of a robust network of highly trained volunteers and the resources to be on the ground right away,” said Amanda Appel, Red Cross disaster program specialist.
In response to last year’s fire disaster, the Red Cross:
- 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.
Looking back and looking forward
“Our community was hard-hit last year and they will be even more vulnerable and have fewer resources to cope this year,” Appel explained. “Therefore we need to be persistent and be creative and flexible to ensure the help is meaningful.”
A corps of trained volunteers helps to strengthen communities, making them more resilient and prepared should an emergency strike. Volunteers come with diverse skills and backgrounds. Last year, the fire disaster prompted Pascal Chevalier, born and raised in the war-torn country of Lebanon, to join.
“I’ve been a direct recipient of Red Cross assistance for all my life, so this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Chevalier said. “When I walked in, I said, ‘I’m here, put me to work.’” He was trained immediately and assigned to support shelter operations.
Last year’s firestorms hit close to home for other Red Cross volunteers, such as Kay MacCready. “I’d worked on a couple of national disasters in the past, but it’s different when it’s in your own backyard,” said MacCready of Winthrop, a small town heavily impacted by the fires and repeated evacuation orders.
The wildfire disaster came uncomfortably close to home, MacCready admits, “But I couldn’t quit. I was working alongside volunteers who were kind and giving and I really learned a lot from them.”