By Gordon Williams
The first warning Stella Astry had that the Graham WA fire was heading her way was a shouted warning from a nephew who was camped out on her property. The fire had brought down a power pole, awakening the nephew, who sounded the alarm. “He yelled ‘there’s a fire back there,’” Stella recalls.
There were a dozen people in Stella’s house — her children and their families, nieces and nephews and their families. “Besides all the people, there were six dogs in the house,” Stella says.
She reckons she had barely 25 minutes to get all the people and dogs to safety at a neighbor’s house. “When I got back to my house, the fire had swept through and everything was destroyed,” she says. The house was gone, as were two sheds and two RVs. Everything that had been in the house was gone — her possessions, and items that her parents had collected.
“Everything I owned over the past 25 years is gone.”Stella Astry, Wildfire Evacuee
With everyone safely housed with the neighbor for that first night, Stella called the American Red Cross in search of longer-term help. The Red Cross directed her to the Best Western in Puyallup where evacuees from the Graham and Bonney Lake fires were being housed. Normally the Red Cross would have opened a shelter in a school or church building. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, evacuees from disaster scenes are now being put up in hotels.
When we talked, the Red Cross was housing Stella and 11 other members of her family in the Puyallup hotel. “The Red Cross paid for my prescriptions and they are going to give us some clothing,” she says. More to the point, the Red Cross was there to help on what was easily the most devastating day in Stella’s life. “I have no idea what to do,” she says, “I have never been through anything like this in my life.”
Red Cross workers on scene have helped her feel safe and cared for. “There have been three Red Cross people at the hotel and they have been great,” she says. “They have taken care of us and treated us with respect. I don’t know where we would be without them.”