Story by Caroline King, American Red Cross of Maine
Hamilton, MT (September 12, 2012) – - Red Cross disaster volunteers Ron and Alice Brace had just returned home from their first Red Cross disaster deployment to Whitehall (19-Mile Fire) and Bozeman (Millie Fire) when they had to immediately evacuate from their Hamilton home. Fellow Red Crosser and Disaster Action Team member, Gus Prestridge, lent a hand as the Braces made a few last-minute preparations before they had to leave their home on Monday.
“We could see the fire from our house and it was then we realized that Mother Nature had taken control of our lives,” said Ron Brace as the wind picked up and they had just more than an hour to evacuate as the Ravailli county fire quickly expanded earlier this week. “Our Red Cross training helped us to stay safe and make quick decisions,” he said and “After this, we will update our disaster plan based on what we have now learned from our experience. The Braces said they are fortunate, as the fire came within about a ¼ mile of their house and “We continue to be amazed that nothing was lost.”
The Braces have been Red Cross volunteers for about three years and even though they were evacuated from their home, they went to straight to work to help some of the 400 of their friends and neighbors who were also evacuated. “We are the face they recognize from the community,” said Alice Brace. “In a town of only 3500, everybody knows everybody.” The Red Cross quickly opened a shelter at the First Baptist Church in Hamilton as a safe place for residents to sleep, get fire updates and a hot meal. The Braces assumed their volunteer duties as Emergency Operations Center Liaisons for the American Red Cross of Montana and continue to provide support to the disaster operation from their camper, currently parked outside the Red Cross shelter at the First Baptist Church.
According to the Braces, no homes were destroyed by this most recent Montana wildfire and only one structure, an abandoned cabin, was lost. “Our home was not damaged by the fire, but we, like many evacuees, were surprised by intensity of the fire’s heat,” said Alice Brace They hope that their experience as retired fire service workers in Colorado, along with their recent evacuation will provide them greater insight into the needs, anxiety and concerns of Red Cross disaster victims. “We learned what local residents go through and now we understand the stress of not knowing what is happening to your home.”
According to Allison Hupp, Chief Operations Officer for the American Red Cross of Montana, “The Braces are the kind of volunteers we want in the Red Cross. Prior to their evacuation, they implemented their own personal disaster plan. The not only teach preparedness to our community, they practice it!” said Hupp. “They are warm and welcoming and willing to do anything and we are grateful to have two such dedicated volunteers.”
The need for volunteers is constant and since June, the American Red Cross of Montana has:
- Opened a total of 18 emergency shelters
- Provided over 1000 overnight stays to evacuees
- Provided over 19,700 meals and snacks to local residents and firefighters
- Provided drinking water and other hydration fluids to over 700 firefighters
- Distributed more than 1,500 relief items including personal hygiene kits and cleaning supplies
- Deployed more than 150 volunteers in multiple communities across the state
- Made 1400 health and mental health services contacts to disaster evacuees