Volunteers responded to fires in the Municipality of Anchorage and in the Denali, Fairbanks North Star, Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna Boroughs during wildfire season
The Alaska summer 2019 wildfire season has drawn to a close, and the Red Cross is taking a moment to look back on the past four months and the fires that impacted communities around the state during this time period.
Throughout the months of June, July, August and September 2019, the Red Cross was on the ground, assisting Alaskans displaced by the Shovel Creek Fire, the Swan Lake Fire, the Montana, Malaspina and McKinley Fires, as well as by fires in Anderson, Anchorage and Rainy Pass.
In a typical year, Alaska’s statutory wildfire season runs from April 1 through August 31, but the Alaska Department of Natural Resources announced that due to persisting high fire danger as a result of continued warm, dry conditions, Alaska’s wildfire season was extended from August 31 to September 30 this year.
“It turned out to be a long year for our disaster volunteers beginning with the earthquake this winter,” said Regional Disaster Officer, Kelley McGuirk. “Although the hot summer was nice for our gardens and summer fun, it kept residents around the state – as well as our staff and volunteers – on edge with wildfires popping up frequently in all areas of the state. At one point in time, the Red Cross had a shelter open as far north as Fairbanks, and another down on the Kenai Peninsula. That was the same week there were multiple evacuations happening one afternoon in Anchorage due to a wildfire near Campbell Creek. Two months later, we had two shelters open in Mat-Su for McKinley Fire evacuees, while the Swan Lake Fire caused highway closures and shelters to open in Kenai.”
As soon as each wildfire started, Red Cross volunteers sprang into action, providing comfort, shelter, food and emotional support to those affected. As we moved through each of the responses and started the recovery process alongside those displaced, we also distributed relief supplies and provided assistance through recovery planning and casework.
Following the start of Alaska’s wildfire season on April 1, the Red Cross of Alaska:
- Opened 7 evacuation centers and overnight shelters. To find open shelters during future disasters and to stay up-to-date with 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts, you can download the free bilingual Red Cross Emergency App by visiting redcross.org/apps, by texting GETEMERGENCY to 90999 or searching for “Red Cross Emergency” in your mobile phone app store.
- Provided 502 overnight stays in Red Cross emergency shelters for those displaced by the wildfires.
- Served more than 3,485 meals and snacks to those displaced, in addition to the meals and snack served in our shelters by partners like the Salvation Army and the Upper Susitna Food Pantry.
- Made nearly 500 disaster health and mental health contacts to provide health services, first aid and emotional care to those affected by the fires.
- Distributed more than 623 personal hygiene and disaster clean-up kits to those who needed them. Personal hygiene kits include items like shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and disaster clean-up kits include items like shovels, brooms, gloves, sifters, masks and more.
- Mobilized 149 disaster workers to assist those affected, and trained an additional 26 Red Cross workers to provide assistance during this summer’s fires and during future disasters in their communities. Volunteers comprise more than 90 percent of the Red Cross disaster workforce and make it possible for us to respond every year to an average of more than 62,000 disasters — most of which are home fires. After large disasters, the Red Cross first depends on pre-trained volunteers to travel to the disaster zone to help people in need. Those who are interested in getting trained to volunteer should visit redcross.org/volunteer.
- Sat down one-on-one with 32 individuals and families to create individualized recovery plans. Red Cross caseworkers connect with those affected to create recovery plans, navigate complex paperwork and locate help from other agencies. Recovery casework help in both the immediate aftermath of a disaster and with longer-term recovery needs.
As we close out one fire season, we are also looking ahead – focusing on community preparedness, providing additional workforce training opportunities, and finding a bit of time to rest and reflect.
“It was indeed an unprecedented summer,” McGuirk said. “Now, we rest.”
Written by Cari Dighton/American Red Cross of Alaska
Videos by Phil Lampron/American Red Cross of Alaska
Photos by Connie Black, Ralph Radford, Anne Johnson, Phil Lampron and Cari Dighton/American Red Cross of Alaska