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Regional Interests

Shelters aid fire evacuees

As fires scorch parts of Oregon, the American Red Cross is offering shelters and other services for those affected. Darrell Fuller is a volunteer with the American Red Cross and he shares details about how the organization can help.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller:  The Bootleg Fire remains the largest wildfire in the U S. It’s burned close to 400,000 acres and it’s only 30% contained. As we heard [recently], some people who lost their homes or who had to evacuate, went to emergency shelters. Darrell Fuller is a volunteer with the American Red Cross. He joins us now to talk about ongoing emergency response.  Where are the Red Cross shelters that are up and running right now for wildfire risks?

Darrell Fuller: We have two shelters that are open right now. We have a shelter opened in Lakeview at the Daly Middle School. So people evacuating from Lake County are going there. Then we have a shelter here in Klamath Falls. We have been in the Klamath County Fairgrounds, but we moved, this week, to the Thrive Church.  So that move was supposed to be completed on Tuesday. And I suspect that everybody has made that transition.

Miller:  What, in general, are people arriving with at one of these shelters?

Fuller:  It depends a lot on how much notice they’ve had and how well they’ve prepared for an evacuation. The Red Cross encourages people anywhere near a wildfire area to be prepared for a potential evacuation.  That means putting together a preparedness kit including some items packed like you’re going to be going away for a few days. Make sure you have your prescription medicines,  some clothes, your toiletries and things of that nature.

But we do get people who show up literally with just what they’re wearing and that’s all they have. With pets, we’re working with local partners to accommodate a pet shelter that is located along with our shelter because the Red Cross generally doesn’t take pets. We take assistance animals, but we work with other partners to make sure that people have accommodations for their pets as well.

Miller:  I was wondering about that. And we’ve heard one of the reasons sometimes people don’t leave, even if they get go-now orders is if they’re afraid of what might happen to their livestock or their pets. So how far away might their pets be from the shelter?

Fuller: It will depend on location. The Klamath Falls Fairgrounds had accommodations for horses and pigs and goats and rabbits and lots of cats and dogs. We’re working with the local 4-H and animal rescuers and the cert team, all of whom were awesome, we essentially co-located the animal Shelter with the Red Cross shelter. So people were able to stay very, very close to their animals.

Miller:  What other kinds of services or resources do you provide?

Fuller: The Red Cross, first and foremost, provides a safe shelter for people who are being evacuated so they have a safe place to stay.  We provide three meals a day and snacks in between. We have people trained in emotional support and  people to take care of any health issues. In that regard and after the sheltering is over, for people who have lost their homes or residences, we have people trained in recovery who can connect [victims] with resources. We provide wildfire kits that include cleaning supplies,  sifters so that people can go back through the ashes of what they’ve lost to see if there are any keepsakes, whether it’s grandmother’s pearls or teas or other mementos that were lost in the fire.

We use that as an example, to encourage people, to think about what they would want to take with them.  If they’re going to evacuate make sure that they have those important papers and those important family photos, the things that they wouldn’t want to lose in a fire. By keeping those things either in their vehicles or close by the front door, if they get a knock at 3:00 AM

and the Sheriff’s deputy says, ‘you need to leave now’, you won’t have to take time to look around. We also encourage people to keep something as simple as a flashlight by their bedside. If a sheriff knocks on your door in the middle of the night, there’s a good chance you won’t have any power and you’ll need to be able to get out of your house.

Miller:  I wanna go back to one thing you said earlier, because the physical aid shelter or food is obviously it’s crucial if people have nowhere else to go or nothing to wear or to eat, but you also mentioned emotional .support or psychological support. What exactly are people being offered?

Fuller:  We have people with training and in crisis counseling, if you will. They will sit down and talk with people. Often people at our shelters don’t know yet whether they have a home to go back to. It’s anxiety inducing. The stress that comes with not being sure is sometimes even worse than knowing that they’ve lost their home or other properties. During the pandemic time we did that stuff remotely by phone. Now we have people there in person who can help walk them through the stages of grief if you will. Uh, and of course we have people there that are medically trained as well and people that follow up with people who faced a loss to make sure they’re connected with any of the government to resources available to them.

Miller:  The fire incident commanders have to be thinking about the challenge of moving around of resources of people and stuff when they are looking at different fires, burning all across a state or a region. Do you have to do something similar when it comes to figuring out where and when to open up a shelter?

Fuller:  We don’t make the decision to open a shelter. We provide services to local county emergency managers when they’re evacuating some of their residents.  They will call the Red Cross and ask us to help them by opening a shelter. So we don’t  ever open a shelter on our own. We do that at the direction of our government partners. Of course the direction the fire is going, the population centers that are being evacuated, all impact, where we’re able to open shelters. Last year we had some shelters in the Willamette Valley that had to be moved after extreme fire activity. We try to avoid that as much as we can obviously.

So we have relationships with schools, churches or other organizations that have large buildings that we can use. We try to have those agreements ahead of time. We also, with our county partners, open temporary evacuation points where people can go to get out of harm’s way while we’re determining the best locations to open shelters. So we spend a lot of time, when we’re not doing disaster response, working with our community partners and our county emergency managers trying to figure out where those locations are going to be, ahead of time. So we’re not doing that at the time of the evacuation.

Miller:  Another thing that really stood out to me in our conversation [on July 19] with a Communications person from the Forest Service, who focuses on fires is that this is early for us to be seeing this level of fire severity. And it’s likely that fire season is just going to be intense and long this year, maybe historically intense and historically long. That means all the people who are fighting fires or responding to them are going to be doing this for a longer [period of] time. How are you thinking about fatigue and preventing fatigue among volunteers like yourself and the teams you work with?

Fuller: The Red Cross has a national group of volunteers we can draw from. Here in Klamath and Lake Counties we have over a hundred volunteers from more than a dozen states that are on the ground. So we generally do two week deployments, and then encourage people to go back home and rest. And if they want to come back out again they certainly  are welcomed to come back out to the wildfires here or other natural disasters around the United States. But we also recognize that coming out and doing this volunteer work is invigorating to people. Sometimes it’s hard to get them to go home but we will encourage people and at some point, if they’re here much longer than two weeks, we tell them they need to go home.

And in a two-week deployment, we require people to take at least one day off. I know a lot of people here in Klamath County from other states have been going to Crater Lake and other places around here to see what Oregon has to offer. So we work very hard to make sure that our volunteers are well cared for, just like we do with people that are evacuated. We don’t want them to burn out.  We want them to enjoy what they’re doing. It’s rewarding work.  It’s important work. And so we want them to know that they’re welcome to come back.  But they need to take time to themselves as well.

Miller:  How are you doing?

Fuller: Well, I’m doing fine. I’m going to be mustering out in a couple of days. I was born and raised in Klamath Falls so I got to come home to my old stomping ground. I’ve been in Kaiser since I left Klamath Falls.  But my parents still live here and my brother and his family are here so I’ve had a chance to connect with old friends and eat some of my mother’s cooking. So my experience has been a little different than other volunteers.

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