Western Wildfires Do Affect Us

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

The United States as a whole is in the midst of one of the worst, and most expensive, wildfire seasons on record. To-date this year, more than 8.5 million acres have burned. In addition to the wildfires currently devastating California, Red Cross disaster workers are assisting with relief efforts for an additional 26 large-scale active wildfires that are currently burning across Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

So far this wildfire season, Red Cross teams across multiple states have operated 52 shelters that saw over 2,400 overnight stays, served nearly 41,000 meals and snacks and distributed nearly 5,000 relief supplies to assist those impacted by raging wildfires. The Red Cross is also working with partners to provide care for evacuated pets and animals.

When disasters hit, the impact is felt far and wide – property is damaged, people are displaced, and lives are upended. But one of the greatest impacts of a disaster is often unseen: the effect on people’s emotional health and mental well-being. Trained Red Cross caseworkers are providing much needed mental health services for individuals and families impacted by these disasters, helping people deal with the intensity of the disaster and connect with additional resources within their community. And as fires continue to burn, Red Cross disaster workers are also looking ahead to coordinate recovery efforts for both individuals and families impacted and displaced by these devastating fires. The Red Cross will continue to work within communities to provide the needed resources to help people respond and recover from wildfires – even after the smoke clears.

Disaster Preparedness

People in the path wildfires, hurricanes and other severe weather should download the Red Cross Emergency App for real time access to weather alerts, preparedness information, safety tips and shelter locations. The Emergency App provides expert advice on what to do during floods, tornadoes, wildfires and other disasters. The app also provides lifesaving information on emergency first aid for various situations such as what to do for heart attacks, heat-related emergencies and includes water safety tips. Pre-loaded content ensures that guidance from Red Cross experts is available anytime, anywhere – even without mobile connectivity. The Emergency App is available for free in app stores for smartphones and tablets and can also be found by searching for American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/apps.

Wildfire Tips

With no end in sight to critical fire weather in the affected states, the Red Cross has safety steps people should follow if they live in an area where a wildfire is possible:

  • If a wildfire threatens, be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.
  • Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
  • Confine pets to one room or spot so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.
  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car.
  • When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.

Click here for additional safety information, including what do to before, during and after a wildfire.

  • To support wildfires and residential fires alike, please consider making a financial contribution at redcross.org/donate
  • To become a disaster responder like Gene Wallis and Vicki Gurriell, you can start your volunteer application at redcross.org/volunteer

Canada’s Wildfire Relief Efforts Supported by Hometown Gal

The Canadian and the American Red Cross joined forces to support 10,000 Saskatchewan wildfire evacuees, this Brenda’s story.

By Brenda Haney, American Red Cross Volunteer

On July 7, 2015 the Red Cross asked if I would represent the U.S. on an International Deployment to Canada. I agreed to go although I had only been home for a week from a deployment in Louisiana.

Diana O’Neill and I left Madison and flew to Edmonton, Alberta on July 8th. We made it through Customs and travelled five hours by bus to Cold Lake, Alberta. Once there we assisted with a shelter with approximately 600 people of several different native Canadian Bands.

Due to the large number of evacuations they were loaded on buses with only the clothes on their backs and bused six hours from Saskatchewan to Cold Lake, Alberta.  The City of Cold Lake opened up one of their buildings to accommodate the people coming in. There were many challenges dealing with this many people and the different cultures.

After two days Diana and I were promoted to shelter managers. We worked 12 hour shifts, both day and night. We were warmly welcomed by our counterparts with the Canadian Red Cross. We worked closely with the government officials to ensure a safe shelter operation.

There were several health issues that required the use of hotels and campgrounds as alternate shelters.

On the 11th day of our deployment we were given the “all clear” to start sending people home. In just two days we had everyone accounted for and on their way back home to Saskatchewan.

The tear down began and the massive task of tearing down cots began. We loaded all the cots in semis and hired a cleaning company to clean and sterilize everything.

It is time to take a break as this was my 5th deployment of 2015. Deployment number three was a driving trip to Texas. Diana and I drove over 4,000 miles roundtrip in the Emergency Relief Vehicle going from Madison to San Marcos, TX to assist with flooding.

I am thankful for the wonderful people I have met on these Red Cross deployments. I am happy that I have been able to help people in their time of need.

A collection of our 1st International Deployment memorabilia will be displayed at the Madison Red Cross Office.

To begin your American Red Cross adventure, please visit redcross.org/volunteer

Wisconsin Red Cross Helps in Texas, Oklahoma

Texas and Oklahoma are feeling the devastating effects of weeks of heavy rain, tornadoes and flooding and the American Red Cross is there, helping people in the Lone Star State get back on their feet.


American Red Cross Texas Storm 2015 Response. Click for a full sized image.

The storms have impacted about 35 percent of the state, destroying or damaging thousands of homes. The Red Cross is providing shelter, food, water, relief supplies, health services and emotional support to people in need.

Since early May, hundreds of Red Cross workers, including 33 from Wisconsin, have opened 37 shelters, served more than 34,000 meals and snacks and handed out more than 33,000 relief items and cleaning supplies in Texas. In addition, 40 emergency response vehicles, three from Wisconsin are distributing food and relief items in the affected communities and additional volunteers and vehicles are on alert if needed.

Let’s listen to a few of our volunteers, courtesy of our TV partners:

If you don’t have the time to volunteer, please consider a financial gift.

May Volunteer Spotlight: Nancy Johnson

Nancy JohnsonCongratulations to Nancy Johnson of Walworth County on being named one of the May 2015 Volunteers of the Month!

Intrigued by disaster response activities and supporting clients affected by disasters, Nancy joined the American Red Cross in early 2005. Nancy explains, “Being a military wife and mother, I have found that volunteering has always made life easier. I began by going into the Racine office once a week and helping wherever necessary. When Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast we began getting clients in Wisconsin, and I worked with getting clients settled in the area. When Rita came six weeks later, I knew I wanted to go and immediately made myself available. I was assigned to Lake Charles and worked with a team doing disaster assessment. The joy of working with clients in need, meeting and sheltering with volunteers from various places in the United States was very fulfilling.”

Since 2006, Nancy has continued to volunteer as a deployment officer. Her nominator, Melisa Myers, of Disaster Staff Services said, “Nancy has been a deployment officer for years now, since becoming one statewide region, deployment officers have been asked to take on other roles, including further developing our national deployment process. Nancy was asked if she would be able to help reach out and talk to returning volunteers from national responses. Nancy was able to help by contacting volunteers and having conversations with them about their experience, current roles, and future roles. With Nancy’s help, we as a region are able to help volunteers feel supported before, during and after a deployment.”

“Staff Service has been my favorite part of working with the American Red Cross. Now that I am unable to travel myself, I feel that being a deployment officer makes me feel just as much a part of the American Red Cross.”

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your talents and time with the American Red Cross!

Danz Street Fire Bring Multiple Agencies Together

The American Red Cross ran a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) at our Green Bay, Wisconsin office on April 29th. This is the second in the state and the first following a large- scale apartment building fire. MARC is a collaboration of private and public agencies that come together and provide assistance in one convenient location. In a comfortable setting, victims of disasters learn and share what resources are available, help them receive assistance and take one giant step closer to recovery.

With the help of bi-lingual volunteers, we helped disaster clients create personal recovery plans, navigate paperwork and locate assistance for their specific disaster-caused needs.  Representatives from government, non-profit, and religiously-affiliated disaster relief organizations included:

  • American Red Cross
  • Salvation Army
  • Vincent DePaul
  • Green Bay & Brown County Housing Authority
  • First United Methodist
  • Brown County Human Services
  • 2-1-1
  • Crisis Center
  • Head Start
  • Register of Deeds
  • Preble High School Culinary Program served an amazing meal

Agencies in the MARC are vetted and their staff and volunteers adhere to high ethical standards to maintain the confidentiality and dignity of the clients. A verification system was implemented to confirm those who have been affected by the disaster. (click for WBAY-TV 2  ,  WFRV-TV 5 , Fox 11  and NBC26 video coverage)

The intentions of a MARC is to save the clients time, money and gas as there is no need to go from one organization to the next. Each client leaves with real assistance – some even received first months rental assistance and confirmation they could start moving into a new apartment later that same day after meeting with agencies! By the end of the day, 12 of the 16 families had confirmed new housing arrangements!

The mother who could now replace her son’s eye glasses was thrilled, the Red Cross would replace them at no cost. With the service, he will also have a complimentary eye exam. “He’ll be a better student when he can see again,” she exclaimed. For all the families, referrals for on-going services, bring them deeper into the recovery process and provide a little piece of mind.

The Danz Elementary School has served as the overnight shelter, provided food, snacks and hope for nearly 70-people after their apartment building fire earlier in the week.

Letter from a Danz Student written to the children of the families impacted.

Letter from a Danz Student written to the children of the families impacted.

When You Say WISCONSIN, You’ve Said…House Fires?

By Marytha Blanchard

What do you think of when you think of Wisconsin? Beautiful lakes, tranquil forests, the Packers, Badgers, cheese, brats and beer? House fires probably don’t make your list. Unfortunately, they should.

As One Red Cross serving Wisconsin, between January 1 and March 31, 2015, we have responded to 391 fires alone! That’s an average more than four households being assisted each day! During the first three months of the year, disaster responders have helped individuals and families in 81 cities and towns across 44 counties and 1,040 people have received Red Cross financial assistance to help them start rebuilding their lives after a fire. Assistance can include lodging, food, clothing, emotional and medical support, information and referrals, a shoulder to cry on, a hug, guidance on where to begin to start picking-up the pieces and more. All assistance is provide free of charge and is delivered by caring volunteers that respond day or night, rain or shine to help neighbors and strangers alike.

So what can you do?

  1. Check your smoke alarms at least twice a year. Seven times a day someone dies in a home fire. Every 40 minutes an injury from a fire is reported. Working smoke alarms will alert you to a fire and allow you the maximum amount of time possible to escape. Going to have dinner at a neighbor’s? Visiting your kids or parents? Help them test their alarms while you are there. They might think you’re odd but who cares, smoke alarms save lives!
  2. Make an escape plan and practice it. From the time a fire starts, you will have two minutes maximum to safely exit your home. Make an escape plan. Determine two ways to exit from every room in your home. Practice your plan regularly. Include all members of your family.
  3. The Red Cross is always accepting new volunteers. There are many different volunteer roles. You could respond to fires and other disasters and work directly with those affected to provide comfort and assistance. You can work behind-the-scenes, helping to make sure volunteers are trained and have the supplies needed to respond.

JOIN our preparedness team! Take part in activities like our door-to-door smoke alarm installation events http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/prevent-home-fires

Teach youth to be prepared for disasters through the Pillowcase Project http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/school/preparedness-education/the-pillowcase-project).

To learn more about volunteering with the Red Cross and to start an application visit www.redcross.org/volunteer.

  1. Contribute to the #GIVEWHATFIRETAKES (https://www.crowdrise.com/givewhatfiretakes) campaign.

Fires are devastating and scary events for anyone who experiences one. There are steps you can take to make you and your loved ones more prepared and should you, your family, or your neighbor experience a home fire the Red Cross will be there, giving back what fire takes.

Winter Ice Storms Cover Tennessee; Wisconsinites Respond

Kathy.Schuh.RiesWinter storms differ; yet, how the American Red Cross responds is the same by providing a safe place to stay, food to eat and a shoulder-to-lean. Five Wisconsinites flew south to support 31 shelters opened during the storm. We are honored Kathy Schuh-Ries, a mental health professional, shared her Tennessee Ice Storm deployment experience.

By: Kathy Schuh-Ries, American Red Cross Disaster Responder

On February 25th, I was deployed to Cookeville, Tennessee to assist with the winter ice storms. I arrived in Nashville, and then rode to Cookeville with another disaster volunteer. It was too late to go to headquarters so we checked into our hotel. The next morning we arrived at headquarters to learn that a series of FIVE winter storms have impacted the state of TN in the last two weeks.

The Cumberland Plateau are was hit especially hard with an inch of ice accumulation in some areas leading to downed trees, power lines/poles, etc. causing 100% electrical grid failures in rural counties.

Several shelters were opened in the Cumberland Plateau due to prolonged power outages. More than 30 fatalities had been reported in TN alone due to the winter weather. When I arrived, several thousand customers still were without power in Putnam, Overton, and Cumberland counties.

Most people seeking shelter have had functional needs. As a disaster mental health worker, I assisted in visiting the shelters and working as a liaison with other Red Cross workers. We worked with shelter staff, nurses, and caseworkers to meet the needs of the clients in the shelters and assist them in returning to their homes once the power was restored.

As mentioned earlier, many of the needs were functional. Needs varied from person to person. Some needed assistance in getting medication, others needed assistance from health care assistants, some just needed someone to listen, and share a cup of coffee.

Fallen trees, debris, lack of fuel were common needs.

Mid week, the Noro virus struck several shelters. Effected parties were isolated and the nurses assisted in caring for the sick. Shelters were sanitized and extensive hand washing was encouraged to stem the virus. Parts of our mission included caring for volunteers as well and assist in covering their shelter shifts.

On Sunday, I participated in an Integrated Care Team. The team is comprised of a nurse, a case worker and a mental health worker. We visited the home of a sibling who lost a brother to hypothermia. After meeting with the family, it was determined that assistance was needed for his burial. The Red Cross assisted since his death was directly related to the storm.

As power was restored, shelters were closed and volunteers were sent home.

Final reflection: 

  • I am always moved by the resilience of people impacted by these forces of nature.
  • My life is put back in perspective after deployment.
  • I love the interesting people I meet along the way. The former cook on Air force 1, the retired FBI agent, the 80 year old mother who could run circles around most of us.
  • While not being part of an organized religion, I find these experiences to be spiritual in their own right.





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