Early-season fires a reminder of Red Cross’ value

The summer of 2012 already has started off as one of the worst early wildfire seasons in many years.

We’ve watched fires such as the Little Sand Fire in the Pagosa Springs area burn thousands of acres of our beautiful forests. We’ve also seen fires such as the High Park Fire in rural Larimer County burn hundreds of homes and take the life of a resident.

Southwest Colorado is one stupid human trick or one lightning strike away from the same sort of outcome. The fire restrictions put in place by the county commissioners can remind us to pay attention to how we use fire in these dry conditions.

When I go out in the community and talk about preparedness, I am surprised by the number of residents who didn’t live here during the Missionary Ridge fire in 2002. They don’t remember not only the toll it took on our landscape but also the emotional, physical and financial impact on our community during those 39 days.

The local Red Cross chapter stepped up during that time and provided shelter, food and health assistance to those affected. During the tenure of the fire, we provided more than 4,500 meals, sheltered more than 500 residents and fed the firefighters who arrived here from around the country. Local Red Cross volunteers were augmented by others from many states.

This is what we do. As the Red Cross mission statement says, we prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. We are there to provide assistance to anyone affected by disaster, whether it is a massive wildfire or a single, family house fire. And we are able to do this because local residents donate to our chapter.

We do not receive funding from the federal government, although our congressional charter says we have to provide these services. We are one of the lowest-funded nonprofits in our community, but we are the first ones called whenever there is a house fire, wildfire, flood or other disaster.

The services we provide are free; we do not want to receive any repayment from our clients. We can be looked at as the insurance policy for disasters in the community.

You can help us continue to provide these unduplicated services in Southwest Colorado by making either a financial donation or a donation of your time. We can’t continue providing help without either one.

A financial donation will be passed along to our clients who have been affected by a house fire, food for our local firefighters during an incident or to open a shelter during an evacuation.

If you donate your time as a volunteer, you will be there to help people during one of the most difficult times of their lives or you can serve food and water to a firefighter on the front line of a wildfire. It’s a way that you can give back to your community.

Cindi Shank is executive director of the Southwest Colorado chapter of the American Red Cross.