r Nothing brings communities together like a tragedy.
The fires in Utah and Juab counties—the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires—have been blazing since September 6. The combined number of acres burned has been estimated at over 120,000. Over one thousand firefighters from thirty-seven states have engaged in the effort. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. Certainly the very definition of a tragedy.
But the entire area has seen an outpouring of help from people of every age and walk of life.
School children have written cards and letters of support to not only the personnel fighting the fires, but to kids their age in Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills who were evacuated and displaced.
Ranchers whose cattle had to be relocated due to their proximity to the fires have, in turn, spent days helping others relocate their cattle. It’s been a massive group undertaking.
Hundreds of people have taken to social media to offer their homes to family and strangers alike.
But perhaps most telling of community support has been the almost excessive giving of donations. On September 14, news outlets and social media pages posted lists of needed donations. Less than two days later, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox sent out a tweet giving his sincere gratitude for the overabundance of supplies and offers to help. His tweet asked people to stop donating. Considering the sheer volume of items being dropped off, the community’s contributions were actually causing more logistical problems than help at that point.
Amber Savage, executive director of the American Red Cross of Central and Southern Utah was “overwhelmed” with the number of donations received at the Nebo School District Central Warehouse in Salem.
“Without asking, stuff will come, so we try to say, ‘If you’re going to bring stuff, please bring this stuff,’” Savage says of what often happens in this area during a natural disaster.
Although physical donations are no longer needed, those of the monetary variety are always appreciated. “Cash is king,” says Savage, because it ensures the right kinds of supplies at the right time.
Thankfully, evacuations have been lifted and most people have returned home. “I don’t want to say we can take a breath,” Savage says. “But, thanks to the efforts of the firefighters, I think we all can take a breath.”
The American Red Cross is now back in preparedness mode. Since donations of physical items are no longer needed, Savage’s call to action is to encourage everyone to “review preparedness plans with families. Check your 72-hour kits. Make sure crucial phone numbers are memorized.”
Above all, being prepared for a disaster of this kind requires partnership on every level, something the people of Utah and Juab counties know quite a lot about.