It all started on 2:24 am on Oct. 2 when we were asked to open an evacuation center at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds.

Many families had already arrived from CRs 101,104, 107, 108, 110, and 111. During the course of the morning more than 300 people arrived at the center. We immediately offered water, snacks, comfort and support. We reassured everyone that they were safe and that we would get through this together.

We appreciated that the sheriff’s office was able to escort people back to their homes to pick up medications and other important items left behind in the anxiety and confusion of a hasty evacuation.

The hot breakfast provided by Wallbangers was a great start to a long day. We were grateful when more Red Cross volunteers arrived so that we could meet with each family and assess their needs for health and well being.

By 10 a.m., we figured out that people would be displaced for a few days, and we began to assess the need to open an overnight shelter. About the same time, Mandy Kaisner, director of Solvista Health, informed us that she had been contacted by 20 families who volunteered space in their homes for evacuees.

Since staying in a home is preferably to staying in a shelter, we began assessing families for placement. There were also pets to consider and Amber VanLeuken, executive director of Ark-Valley Humane Society, was already at the fairgrounds handling pet sheltering needs and other animal issues.

Robin Nejame, community coordinator at High Country Bank, offered to assist with providing meals, blankets, toiletries or whatever else was needed. When it came time to plan for each meal, she was always there to make it happen. She coordinated amazing, fresh, hot, delicious meals from our partners, Lensi and Michael McGovern, owners of Amicas Pizza.

Rev. Melinda Roberts, pastor, and Licia Iverson, administrator, graciously opened their Salida United Methodist church for our next evacuation center. They happily and willingly helped to create a warm and welcoming space for us and the evacuees.

It was perfect place for evacuees to gather, share their worries and concerns, get help and support, get information from the fire team, and have delicious meals from Amicas and other restaurants.

Our community came together in the most amazing and loving ways. All together, the Red Cross and our partners provided for housing for 44 individuals and families in local homes, we arranged for three hot meals every day, plus snacks, we organized local experts to present the latest information on the status of the fire and return of evacuees, coordinated with Ark- Valley Humane Society to care for pets and worked with the Sheriff’s office to escort people back to homes for needed personal items.

It is often said that adversity brings out the best in communities. So many individuals, businesses, city and county agencies, emergency fire and safety personnel worked long hours to make sure that we were safe, protected and well informed

It is from difficult circumstances such as the Decker Fire that we discovered the love, joy and deep satisfaction that comes from helping our friends, families and our entire Salida family.

We are grateful for this opportunity to serve our community.

Elizabeth Ritchie, Salida

Red Cross nurse

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