Help needed bracing for wildfire impact across the GNW

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With the largest wildfire in the country currently burning in southern Oregon and almost three dozen more popping up throughout Washington and Idaho, Greater Northwest Area UMC disaster response teams are watching things closely and asking churches across the area to be ready.

Thankfully, at this point, disaster response coordinators across the Greater Northwest Area are not reporting the record-level destruction that occurred less than a year ago, but there is a great deal of smoke in the air. For people with health problems, it’s becoming hazardous and Pacific Northwest Conference Disaster Response Coordinators Dana and Kathy Bryson are busy getting cleaner air kits deployed across the area – specifically in central and northcentral Washington.

The cleaner air kits are made up of a 20-by-20-inch box fan, a 20-by-20 Merv air filter and two bungee cords. United Methodist churches in Wenatchee, Cheney and Kennewick, Wash., have been busy building these kits.

Just this week 12 kits were sent to Malden, Wash., to help survivors of the 2020 wildfires who are still living without adequate housing and have health conditions, according to Kathy Bryson. There are still dozens of people living in RVs parked in the middle of what once was there small town just a year ago.

“Right now, we’re dealing with smokey skies, more than anything,” Kathy Bryson said. “That could change.”

The Brysons said if churches are interested in helping put together these cleaner air kits, they would love to talk with them to make sure they’re getting the right supplies and the kits are deployed in the right places.

The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon is so far burning mostly in wildland areas of approximately 600 square miles, but has damaged 67 homes. The situation could change rapidly. While the Oregon-Idaho Conference works to fill its disaster response coordinator position, volunteers such as Jim Frisbie, Jim Truitt, and Louise Kienzle are monitoring the situation.

Kienzle said she is busy trying to connect with churches to find places where UMCOR kits – everything from hygiene to clean-up kits – can be stored so that they can easily be connected to local communities where disaster might strike.

While the Brysons said they are prioritizing the need for cleaner air kits, there are other ways churches are contributing. Haller Lake UMC has created more than 100 “soot sponge” kits for fire survivors.

“There are two types of fire survivors: those who lose everything and those who survive the burn through,” said Dana Bryson.

The soot sponge kits help the latter, using dry sponges and Nitrile cleaning gloves to help clean up ash-covered, dusty surfaces. Kathy Bryson said these will likely be supplemental kits distributed along with UMCOR cleaning kits. Often the UMCOR kits include wet sponges and the Brysons said wet sponges wreak more havoc on cleaning up fire debris than helping.

Kienzle said the Oregon-Idaho Conference needs hygiene kits and cleaning kits which can be stored at the yet-to-be-named churches for rapid deployment.

Last year the ash sifter kits that churches put together were extremely helpful in places such as Malden to help those who had lost everything to wildfires sift through debris. Kathy Bryson said there are a couple dozen being stored at Spokane Valley UMC.

“Last year I was just handing them out off the back of my truck,” she said.

The Brysons along with Truitt, Frisbie and Kienzle are all monitoring the ever-changing situations, talking with district superintendents in the areas impacted by fires and praying that their supplies won’t be needed. But it is better to be prepared than not.

“Everyone is just waiting for things to change,” Dana Bryson said. “And fires will move.”

To help with supplemental kits such as cleaner air kits, contact the Brysons at brysonpnw@gmail.com.

If churches in the Oregon-Idaho Conference can offer UMCOR kit storage space or are willing to put together cleaning and hygiene kits, contact Kienzle at umvim@umoi.org or call 541-620-0989.

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