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COLUMN: Amid Disastrous Fires, Community Comes Together to Act

August 31, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

These are difficult times for many Washingtonians as the battle against wild fires continues on multiple fronts. The spirit of sacrifice and generosity of fellow citizens, near and far, gives a reason for hope amid great adversity.

While towns in Okanogan have been especially hard-hit, Chelan, Yakima, Klickitat, Ferry, and Stevens counties face devastating blazes. I saw the destruction of homes and businesses in Chelan and Twisp: the scale of the challenge seems daunting, but these fires have met the grit and resolve of courageous men and women.

The thousands of first responders, firefighters, National Guard members, and volunteers – some from as far away as New Zealand and Australia – have demonstrated heroic efforts to protect the lives and property of our neighbors. Their safety is in our prayers.

We honor the memory of three U.S. Forest Service firefighters who were overrun while fighting flames at Twisp River Road in the Methow Valley. They leave behind families, friends, and loved ones whose loss can never be replaced. These brave men were familiar with the dangers of their service. They understood the risks, and yet they served out of devotion to their community on behalf of others. The words from Scripture remind us: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

We also pray for a swift recovery for firefighters who have been injured.

Local and national charitable organizations including the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are collecting and coordinating distribution of relief supplies. These organizations are providing bottled water, canned food, batteries, toiletries, and other necessities. The Red Cross has also secured shelters for residents who have been forced to evacuate their homes in North Central Washington. For information on how to find a shelter, you can call (509) 663-3907. To find out more about the Red Cross efforts, you can call 1-800-RedCross or go online to www.RedCross.org.

The depth of the need has been met by an outpouring of support. When the Department of Natural Resources called for citizen volunteers for the first time in state history, thousands responded to sign up, including hundreds of heavy equipment operators. That response is a testament to the strength and depth of our community's commitment to help one another.

Federal support after an Emergency Declaration will be  critical to secure additional resources to help battle the wildfires burning in the state and help with recovery.  I will continue to work with federal officials to ensure those affected are getting the resources they need. 

From those on the front lines working long hours, to those on the back lines coordinating relief, we have seen the very best of our neighbors and our community.

As we pray for relief of the threat, we also lift up prayers of gratitude for the courage and kind acts, great and small, of so many.