The American Red Cross Responds to Wildfires; Local Volunteer Answers the Call to Help…. Part II

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Shirley and Rudy Senarighi

On Tuesday, July 22, Rudy Senarighi, of Sturgeon Bay, WI, packed his bags and was on a flight to Seattle, Washington to assist in the area of Disaster Mental Health for those impacted in the WA Wildfires.  We brought you Rudy’s story on July 25 and to read the first part of his story click HERE.

We are proud of Rudy for putting his life on hold to answer the call to help. We are happy to share that Rudy will be coming home to Wisconsin on Thursday from his Red Cross deployment. We thank him for sharing his thoughts, experiences, and how the Red Cross is helping those impacted….here is the rest of his story.

DAY 4:

It was a long, hot day in Pateros. Up at 5:00 AM to get some coffee before the drive north for a meeting of organizations in Pateros. We set up two tents near the high school to accommodate Disaster Mental health, Health Services and Client Casework. Had a number of folks stop in, some just to sit and relate their stories. The fire has burned down enough so damage assessment can get in and take a look around. The estimate prior to this was 200 homes destroyed. They now are saying they estimate over 300 were lost. Some are talking about rebuilding, some are just leaving, its sad. The town still has no power as 300 miles of wire and poles were burned and are down. They are hoping to get the main line along the highway and into town done over this weekend, but the laterals to the folks in the back country won’t be up for at least a month. Most of them are on generators, but there has been a rash of generator thefts. The orchard growers are bringing in big diesel generators to be able to water the orchards. They are estimating that they have lost 12 – 18% of their trees and fruit from the fire. A 75 year old smoke jumper team captain said in all his years of dealing with fires, he has never seen one as devastating as this one. By the way, my hot shower tonight was WONDERFUL!!!!

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DAY 5:

 91 degrees and clear sky in Pateros today but the good news is power is back on to most of the town. The outlying areas (dirt roads to the interior) are still w/o electricity. However, we are bringing in food, water and tomorrow will begin to bring in ice to them. Temps are predicted to hit mid 90s tomorrow. People continue to show up at Pateros high School with trailers or truck loads og goods to donate. Talked with a couple today who drove from Walla Walla to Pateros to donate. (mapquest that one) Some folks were sharing that they had been allowed back into their property and were sifting through the ashes. they said the found some ceramic stuff intact (been fired already) but everything else was burned or melted. As in every disaster there are weird stories about things surviving. A family pulled their trailer away as the flames were rolling up the hills toward their place. Their buildings were destroyed, but the patio table, chairs and umbrella were still standing untouched.


They are moving us to Brewster,WA in the next two days as they begin to restructure the approach. that will give us less driving to get to the affected area. Working in that temperature today was pretty draining. Kept hydrated, but I am really bushed tonight. Five more active days for me and then I outprocess and head home. Great experience here, but it really helps ground you in the reality of how fortunate you are to have a comfortable home and loved ones to return to.

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DAY 6: 

Flexibility. Plans changed. The fire blew up again in Black canyon which is 7 miles up the road from Pateros, so that’s where we were sent back to this morning. The scooper planes and helicopters along with firefighters on the ground handled it well. air was smokey for the morning but the fire was out. We made outreach trips to the Alta Lake area. 47 homes completely destroyed there along with many vehicles. Good news for the day is the temperature did not hit the predicted 102 degrees and stayed at 94. People are beginning to really come to our service center, which lessens our time driving the back roads looking for people. we’ve coordinated well with other agencies, and there is minimal duplication of services. At one point we thought we would be ramping down the operation, but there still is a lot of the forest hot and burning.

The reception that we have gotten from the people here is very positive and welcoming. My big “in” with one of the local leaders is that her favorite uncle is named Rudy. What a lucky guy.

DAY 7:

 

The community at Pateros is ending their mass feeding tomorrow. They have been operating from the high school, but need to get ready for the school year. All the donations stored there (and as Jacob Marley would say about the quantity, “it is a ponderous thing) need to moved and stored by Friday. We will be working with the Southern Baptist group to continue the feeding from our ERVs. Temperature is rising, hitting 106 today. We have put up tent awnings to deliver our casework from, but it still gets quite warm under the tents. People continue to return and shift through the ashes.
I have downloaded a couple of pictures of the area from my camera. You have to imagine 400 square miles looking like this. There is a picture of two cars in a driveway. The shiny ribbons of metal between them is melted aluminum from the cars. There is a constant smell in the air of wet ashes, like when you drown a campfire. Fire is now at the stage similar to a controlled burn. Most of the really hot spots are in the national forest. The terrain is rugged and remote and much of that will burn or be controlled by back fires.

It has been a week now and the shock is setting in for the people. Business is picking up.
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Day 8: 
Last day in the field. 109 degrees at 4:.00. Drank a LOT of water today. The fire flared up again and planes were ferrying water from the Columbia River back to the blaze and dropping it. Got a couple of pictures from the rise overlooking Pateros. Smoke made the air hazy for most of the morning, but it cleared off slightly by afternoon. Talked to one resident who lost his house who told me the ground got so hot the buried wires and PVC pipe melted. Attaching some photos of the planes scooping water from the river. tomorrow is my day off. Plan on a lazy day and doing some laundry. I out process on Thursday. If I don’t work that day I am going to try for a flight home. Got a nice goodbye from the folks in Pateros.

 

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