Our local disaster, the Almeda Fire of earlier this month, issues numerous disturbing points for anyone who thinks about cause, effect, and results.
- To summarize, ours isn’t the worst disaster of the fire season. Not the largest, nor longest burning. Fast and brutal, it destroyed a few Ashland homes (my town, about two miles from my house). Then, egged on by high winds, it went north and west and destroyed two small neighboring towns, Talent and Phoenix, and terrorized Medford. Thousands of structures were destroyed. Thousands of people are displaced.
- While the fire was being fought, water ran out. The fire hydrants literally ran out of water. Multiple and simultaneous demands killed water pressure. That lack of water pressure meant first, no more water to fight fires, and second, potentially contaminated several towns’ drinking water. Boil warnings were issued.
- We have sirens and emergency systems set up in Jackson County and Ashland. Neither were used. Why? As the fire spread, evacuation orders were issued for one neighborhood. The entire city (and the county) was put on Level 1 evacuation orders, which means, be ready to go. But the Sheriff didn’t want the emergency warnings used; he didn’t want to cause panic. So instead of using those two systems, they did nothing. We were left in an information vacuum.
- Spectrum’s internet (and cable TV and landline systems) went down. A major cable burned through. Those of us still with Internet were able to log on. Facebook, and a local community group, became the most valued source of information. This was basically done by monitoring other cities and towns’ emergency orders to pass on to Ashlanders what was happening. That group, which already did a great job, is now asking, what can we do better? Love the proactive approach.
- Cell phone capability was compromised as the fire burned down several regional cell towers.
- The unscathed rallied to help the survivors. Money, food, clothing, batteries, telephone chargers, water, etc., were donated.
- Most of the money donated through the United Way and the Red Cross remain tied up in bureaucracy. Want help? Go to them. People who’ve lost everything were being directed to go hunt down the Red Cross and United Way and apply for help.
- Red Cross did set up at the Expo Center, where other agencies were set up. Here’s a classic tale, though. A man got onto Facebook and told the Red Cross there, hey, we don’t have transportation. We can’t get to you. Their response: call the national hotline. The national hotline’s response: call your local chapter. A local Red Cross worker finally woke up and said, I’ll get you help. It shouldn’t be so damn hard, though.
- Meanwhile, FEMA has become a joke. Their guidance is to apply. Then, if you’re turned down, apply again. And if you’re turned down again, keep applying until you’re approved.
- How fucking broken is FEMA that their standard operating procedure seems to be to initially reject people but, you know, keep trying. Savage, especially for people who have lost everything, their paperwork, clothing, and the mobile and manufactured homes that they lived in. They were already just hanging on, keeping their heads high enough to avoid being sucked under, and this agency, established to help survivors after a disaster, prove to be inept and bungling. Infuriating.
- *snark alert* One noble local business, a storage place, told their renters that everyone needs to come in and clean up their space. By the way, they’re still charging the full amount for the month. Sounds like good fucking people, right?
- Should write about the animals, but don’t want to. It’s painful. Many people prize their animals above everything else. Now they’re scrambling to find them. Animals are being found, fed, treated, etc. Communities have been set up online to share photos, sightings, descriptions, etc. It’s a huge, sprawling mess, though. There must be a way to do it better. I end up getting diverted, looking through descriptions of lost pets and thinking, I saw that animal listed on another page, didn’t I? Then I go looking, usually without success.
- Some pets have been re-united, and those are noted as success. It’s also noted when animals have crossed the rainbow bridge.
- The photos of singed, burnt surviving animals rip your guts, you know?
- Think of all the services that you use. Gas, water, trash pickup, electric, banking, credit cards, phone, Internet. All needed to be called to be told, “Hello, my home burned down.” In the case of Internet, gas, and electric, they needed to be told, shut off those services and please don’t charge me. For banking and credit cards, it was sometimes, watch for fraud or send me new cards.
- A bright spot emerged from the local restaurants. Many locally owned places in Ashland said, you need a meal, come in and tell us, no charge, no questions asked. We’re here for you. A few made hundreds of meals and went off to the evacuation points and served them. Other businesses, schools, and churches set their parking lots up as socially distanced places where people can park and sleep, opening up their restrooms and showers (when available) for people to use 24/7.
There is more, but you know, that’s enough for one September Saturday. Be safe. Enjoy your day. Take care.
And please wear your damn mask.