Donation drive aims to aid fire crews, victims

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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Wildfire season is Washington's worst

Wildfire season is Washington’s worst

County residents and businesses are gathering extra supplies for firefighters toiling on fire lines around Washington, and for residents affected by wildfire.

DeWils Industries, a local kitchen cabinet manufacturer, is leading the effort, working with fire agencies, gathering goods, providing storage and corralling drivers to transport donations.

“We hatched the plan on Sunday evening and decided to post the event on Monday morning,” said Lynda Wilson, state representative for the 17th District and a co-owner of DeWils.

By the time she was heading to bed Monday night, word of the event had spread around Facebook, with 5,000 invites to the program’s event page — listed as SW Washington Firefighter Supply Drive. As of Wednesday afternoon, almost 900 said they planned to donate goods, and people had sent out 12,000 Facebook invitations.

Generally, though, emergency managers recommend against donating directly to firefighters deployed at a fire. It’s not necessarily as helpful as people might think.

Erik Frank at Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, the county’s 911 service, wrote on the agency’s blog Tuesday that CRESA has received multiple calls from people asking about sending toiletries or sack lunches to firefighters. They’re well-fed and well-supported, he said, adding an influx of goods firefighters probably don’t need can be counterproductive.

All that stuff needs to be stored, tracked and dispensed, and that work can slow fire managers’ logistical processes, said state Department of Resources spokeswoman Carrie McCausland.

Residents displaced or left homeless by the fire are the ones who need the help.

“What we usually tell the public is to go to local government (web) sites, the county sites, city sites, and see who they’re recommending as a location to donate,” she said.

Wilson said organizers have been working directly with firefighters or people in touch with firefighters to make sure all the donations go where they’re needed.

“If we have overflow that works better for the victims, then we are sending that,” Wilson said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any friction.”

Wilson said the organizers have heard from people in the county and north through Longview to Chehalis asking about where to drop off things, and from people offering to drive.

“I think people just wanted to do something, and they just needed to know how,” she said. “We had no idea it was going to take off like it did, so we’re just trying to keep up.”

Donations of toiletries, extra socks and other basic items are being accepted at businesses all over the county through the drive. Wilson said people are putting together individual care packages, and drivers, even some with DeWils, are helping transport goods. There was so much interest, she said DeWils plans on expanding the length of the drive through the weekend to give people more time to donate.

“While I’m standing here people are coming here and dropping things off,” she said by phone Wednesday.

McCausland said DNR provided the local donation drive’s organizers contact information for relief efforts in fire-stricken areas.

The DNR will sometimes work with local providers or community nonprofit groups for specific needs as they come up, she said, but firefighting operations largely support themselves.

Frank said there simply aren’t enough people in firefighting agencies trained to manage donations.

Monetary donations, since liquidity is so helpful after a disaster, go a long way for those who’ve lost homes, and CRESA pointed to the American Red Cross, United Way of Chelan and Douglas County, and the Northwest Baptist Convention as charities working with displaced people in the fire areas.

Frank also recommended using the charity search system at the state Secretary of State’s website, at www.sos.wa.gov/charities/donors.aspx, to help verify a charity’s legitimacy.