Abandoning our travel theme, this post is about a recent local Red Cross activity. Perhaps some information will be new for you.
Southwest Florida had above average rain in 2016 fostering luxurious growth. The last five months have been the 6th driest spell on record. All that brush is now tinder.
Three fires broke out April 20th. One grew to 400 acres in Lehigh Acres and two encompassed over 7000 acres in Golden Gate, outside Naples. The Red Cross provided support to evacuated citizens, police, fire and other first responders.
The Lehigh fire was caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette. The Golden Gate fire was caused by a lawn mower that struck a spark off a rock.
Thirteen homes were damaged in Lehigh and four were a total loss. One firefighter was injured. Golden Gate has many five and ten acre undeveloped lots. Three homes were destroyed.
The American Red Cross provides support during disasters like floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados. But the most common disaster is a house-fire. A few years ago, national statistics said the Red Cross responded to a house fire every nine minutes. A house fire is sad on the news; terrible hurting someone you know; and a disaster when it is your house.
When emergency responders are called out for an extended time, the Red Cross provides food and water to those on the scene: emergency medical technicians; police; and firefighters. If authorities determine it is needed, an emergency service center will be opened to help evacuated people. Sometimes overnight shelters are needed.
In some countries, the Red Cross and Red Crescent are branches of the government. In the United States it is a private organization which receives no federal funding. Ninety-six percent of the work is done by volunteers.
Volunteers opened shelters Thursday night. They also opened a canteen at a church in Golden Gate fire to feed the emergency responders.
On Friday I worked on an ERV [emergency response vehicle]. The ERV usually takes food and water to people near the fire. However, a Forest Service spokesman said “The fire was throwing embers a quarter to a half-mile in front of itself. We’re talking about extreme fire conditions.” It was too dangerous for Red Cross volunteers to move in close. We settled in close to the canteen and gave snacks, water and Gatorade to firefighters returning to the line.
Alie reported to the Disaster Operations Center on Saturday. Most of the year, she helps train volunteers. During a disaster, she is responsible for the Safe and Well Program which tries to connect people with their families in other locations. This time, she worked in Planning and Information. She tells me she is “just a secretary” but she is often drafted to prepare the “situation reports” every bureaucracy needs.
On Saturday, we moved the ERV to a larger staging area at the southern end of the fire. I counted police, fire and Forest Service personnel from twenty-six departments — even the Seminole Indian Tribe Fire Department was there.
The U.S. has a long tradition of neighbors helping neighbors. After we left Friday and before we arrived Saturday, members of the Living Word Family Church brought in food and drink. We assisted where we could, including obtaining food donations from local restaurants, but it was not necessary to open a Red Cross canteen Saturday. The folks from the church were there. The Salvation Army opened a feeding station Monday.
Mandatory evacuations were lifted Sunday, and the Red Cross started going door-to-door to see who needed help. A Naples ERV crew continued “canteening.”
Regular readers know we travel more than most. Since 2004, we have found volunteering at the Red Cross to be a rewarding activity that requires us to be trained but does not demand we always be present. We help when we are home. We help when we are needed. Perhaps you would be interested too. Learn more at redcross.org.
Click on photos to enlarge.
P.S. As I write this, the fire is 75% contained, but firefighters continue to work along the 25 mile-long perimeter.