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Red Cross seeks volunteers to help during wildfire season

The American Red Cross needs local volunteers as wildfire season is in full swing.

Natural disasters are happening concurrently with the COVID-19 pandemic, making it necessary for the Red Cross to change some emergency response measures including deployment of volunteers to disaster response.

“With so many Covid restrictions, we are not able to deploy people nationally. Usually, if there was a huge wildfire here in Nevada that our two chapters can’t cover, then we would have people coming in from around the country to help us,” said Jennifer Sparks, communications and marketing manager for the American Red Cross of Southern Nevada. “Well, right now, it is harder to do that with all the travel restrictions; that’s why we’re looking for people in Nevada already to be able to help us out.”

The Red Cross is looking to fill at least 75 positions monthly during the wildfire season but will not turn others away if they would like to help out. The nonprofit looks for compassionate people who have “a heart in (the) mission, which is preventing and alleviating human suffering especially in the face of disasters,” Sparks said.

People with physical and mental health care backgrounds are encouraged to volunteer to give additional support.

“If you are displaced because of a wildfire, that’s probably one of the worst days of your life. So we’re really going to be looking for people who can provide a whole-body type of care,” Sparks said.

Volunteers are particularly needed for shelter support. These volunteers would help organize and manage evacuees into safety. Because of COVID-19, it is nearly impossible to shelter evacuees in a school gymnasium as would normally happen during disasters. Now evacuees will be kept separate in hotel rooms, and volunteers will organize them to prevent any crowds.

Volunteers will not be tested for COVID-19, but the Red Cross has virtual training, a mandatory body temperature check for in-person and a variety of volunteer positions that can be done from home apart from going out in the field. “Our number one priority is the health and safety of our employees, volunteers and the people we serve,” Sparks said.

Across the state, the Poeville, Mahogany and Numbers fires already have affected hundreds of people. On average, across Nevada on an interagency basis, about half of forest fires are caused by humans.

According to Gwen Sanchez, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest fire management officer, the past winter’s above-normal moisture resulted in grass and shrub growth that has now dried out due to hot and dry conditions and become fire fuel. The fires carry through that layer of vegetation and result in more problematic fires.

Monsoon moisture that usually starts at the beginning of July would help the drought, but this year’s storms are predicted to be delayed for at least two weeks, Sanchez said.

She emphasized the importance of “firewise” communities, which can play such a big role. Recreationists can help first responders by being cautious and diligent while working with fire in the woods.

“When our first responders are at those incidents, it makes them unavailable to respond to our natural caused fires,” Sanchez said. “We only have so much capacity in the system and it just spreads us thinner.”

Those interested in volunteering for the Red Cross can visit its website. People can also help spread the message by following the Red Cross on social media platforms to learn and share safety and preparedness tips, including overall safety information. For fire safety and prevention, visit the Nevada Fire Info website.

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