Story and photos: Carmela Burke, American Red Cross Volunteer and member of the Advanced Public Affairs Team (APAT). Carmela has been on at least 20 national deployments, including assignments to New York (Sandy), Prescott (Yarnell fire), Colorado (floods), and San Diego (wildfires).
When I wrapped up deployment on August 10, the wildfires in Eastern Washington—which ignited July 17—were still considered the largest in State history. My deployment as Public Affairs Manager was to support the operation and the local Apple Valley chapter through External Relations. Responsibilities included managing the public affairs activity, mentoring public affairs workers, and contributing to build regional capacity. During the operational period of August 9-10, wildfire containment of the 256,100-acre Carlton Complex was 91%, 19,700-acre Chiwaukum Creek was 35% contained, 8,800-acre Snag Canyon fire was 15% contained, and a 400-acre South Cle Elum Ridge fire was 0% contained.
The American Red Cross Eastern Washington Region is made up of six community chapters headquartered in Ellensburg, Kennewick, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and Yakima and a regional chapter based in Spokane, Washington. Disaster Relief Operations headquarters was based out of Wenatchee, a city known as the “Apple Capital of the World.” Staff and volunteers from affected chapters were not only consumed by the multiple wildfires but their day-to-day activities at home and work were overwrought as well. By the end of July, there was a call-out for disaster workers to support relief efforts in Eastern Washington State. Red Cross regions belonging to the Pacific Division deployed teams to converge in Wenatchee, located about 3 hours east of Seattle. I met workers from Alaska, Arizona, California and Nevada. All service delivery areas were activated for mutual aid.
As of August 6, the Red Cross: • served more than 18,000 meals, • distributed more than 23,000 snacks, • distributed nearly 6,000 mops, cleaning supplies, rakes, work gloves, buckers, trash bags, storage containers, diapers, baby wipes, • conducted nearly 9,000 contacts in the community regarding medical and emotional issues, and • met one-on-one with displaced families to assist with their disaster recovery plan.
As the disaster relief operation transitioned back to the local Apple Valley Chapter, CEO Nicolle Lafleur and her staff continue to: see that client needs are met; inform the public and community partners of preparedness, response and recovery; and raise funds for disaster relief. An eloquent quote from the local communicator to the External Relations team: “My heartfelt thanks for all your efforts on this DR. It was my first deployment as well and having such a strong, dedicated team really made it work well. I know my region will have a long recovery ahead in those communities, but I know we laid a very strong foundation of support that they can rely on.”