American Red Cross  - Carleton Complex Fire DR 416-15 EWF July 2014 Photo by Jacqueline M. Koch/American Red Cross
Reaching out to fire-impacted communities: A Red Cross volunteer hands out flyers illustrating preparedness measures for wildfire season.

 by Megan Snow, executive director
Red Cross, Greater Inland Northwest

In the Northwest, fire season usually flares in earnest in July. Not so for the summer of 2015, gauging by the wildfires that have erupted across the state. By the end of June, we’ve endured a steady onslaught of raging blazes, destroying homes and forcing people to find safety. For regional Red Cross volunteers, from Central Washington to the Idaho Panhandle, the pace has been hectic. At the start of July, we had opened eight shelters in seven days.

It’s hard to think of what will come next. What I’ve witnessed over the last two weeks brings just one thing to mind: the importance of being prepared. We can’t predict what the wildfires will do, but we can take measures to reduce risk by having a plan and staying alert and informed.

The key operating word is preparedness. I’ve worked alongside volunteers who have mobilized to open shelters and put contingency plans in place as the fires razed homes, neighborhoods and business districts. At times, these volunteers make it all seem effortless. They are there, they are ready to assist people when it’s needed most—to offer food, shelter and comfort. Preparedness, I’ve learned from experience, goes a long way. To provide immediate help as a disaster unfolds requires ongoing readiness. This means putting resources in place, ensuring our volunteers are trained for unexpected scenarios, and securing the equipment and partners needed to bring a relief operation to life, wherever it may be needed.

Preparedness is at the heart of the commitment that the Red Cross and its dedicated corps of trained volunteers have made to the communities they live in, in the Northwest region and across the country. It’s one they can keep with the ongoing generosity of supporters. We have a long summer ahead, and sadly, we can expect wildfires to continue to play a volatile and destructive role. We’re hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, and working together to make it through another tough wildfire season.

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