PINEDALE – A small team of two people, very little training and a dedication to help others maintained a shelter and communications for weeks during and after the devastating fire in Hoback Ranches.
“I don’t know how many hundreds of hours I sat in the shelter,” longtime volunteer Trudy Fry said.
Fry and volunteer Bonnie Billeb were personally thanked for their hours of dedication during a Nov. 2 gathering with American Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Gehrig Haberstock and other volunteers.
Haberstock, who moved to Wyoming from North Carolina only four months ago, said the response in Wyoming was different than the responses he has seen during major hurricanes.
“It was good to see an entire community wrap around and support the victims,” Haberstock said. “They opened their wallets, their homes, their pastures.”
He said staging a disaster relief trailer with supplies at the Hoback Ranches’ location was a first for Red Cross and a recommendation for future locations. He said in many disaster location,s an unmanned trailer would be looted or vandalized. In the Hoback Ranches, the supplies in the trailer just keep growing.
“Whether it’s dog food or shovels, people just keep putting stuff in the trailer for everyone to use,” Haberstock said. “No locks were needed; the residents have been stewards of the property.”
He added, if every community responded like Sublette County, “This would be a lot different world.”
Fry said she and Billeb were the only two people with the Red Cross in Sublette County prior to the fire, but people came out of the woodwork to help. She said she has kept lists of all the resources and will continue to build on those lists.
While only a handful of more than 350 people who were evacuated needed temporary motels, the shelter became a hub for information, she said.
Among the lessons learned was how to evacuate.
She said she talked to one man who kept placing his guns in a vehicle. His wife would remove them and replace them with other things. In the end, he evacuated with his wife, his guns, his dog and the vehicle. “That’s all I needed,” the man told Fry.
During the dinner and gathering on Friday, the dozen volunteers told first-hand stories and planned for the future. What were two Sublette County volunteers are now seven. Fry said training is needed. In reality, she and Billib had been trained years ago, but had no practical training or updates in five or six years.
The first training for the seven volunteers was done the next morning by Haberstock.
“We want them to have the tools to keep building,” he said. “They want to continue using these events to have regular meetings and stay familiar with each other.”
Going forward, the group of volunteers wants to have a workshop to help community members make 72-hour kits, develop emergency plans and emergency kits.
In practicality, as the volunteers sat around the table, most had an emergency kit in their vehicles. In reality, many hadn’t checked the kits in years to determine if the food and water or first aid supplies were still good. People didn’t have a list of their contacts or a list of medications. People evacuated without eyeglasses and medications.
Pinedale Lions Club member Mindi Crabb reported that more than $260,000 has been collected for the victims – including $100,000 in matching funds committed by philanthropist Foster Friess. She said in the first round of accepting applications, $55,000 were distributed to 11 applicants. She added the Pinedale Lions Club also gained two members from the Hoback Ranches area.
She added they are getting ready to do another round of applications. She said the committee of nine people who reviews the applications knows more people need help but haven’t applied.
“At this point, the committee would accept applications from friends on their behalf, just to get people the help they need,” Crabb said.
Moving forwardnow means getting the Hoback Ranches area ready for winter and the anticipated landslides and soil erosion that are predicted to hit in the spring, because the burned ground cover has no roots holding the soil.
This past weekend Team Rubicon, former military members who volunteer, came from the western United States to help.
According to Nika Hermes, operations section chief for Operation Teddy (named in honor of former President Teddy Roosevelt), five operations persons and 14 “glaciers” – beginning volunteers – came in with the intent to help five homeowners without insurance sort through the debris. When they arrived, volunteers had already stepped in.
Team Rubicon then turned its attention to deploying wattles – long devices filled with straw – to stabilize drainage. Hermes said not much of what was planned could get done because of the cold temperatures and the need to keep volunteers safe.
Volunteers were housed in the Wilderness Church and were provided meals free of charge by Pinedale restaurants – again the community stepping up, Hermes said.