8/21/2014 7:53:00 AM Meeting the needs in our fire ravaged home
By Linda Evans Parlette
This is a brief In Touch to update you about a few of the efforts to assist the many people affected by the record wildfires in our area.
First, Okanogan County Emergency Management has dedicated a telephone line to providing information about fires, evacuations, and road closures, and receiving information about property damage and housing needs. It is 509-422-7206.
Next, I received word last night that the U.S. senators and representatives who serve our part of the state - Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert - have sent a letter to President Obama asking that he grant, in its entirety, the major-disaster declaration requested by Governor Inslee.
The president made such a declaration in April after the deadly Oso landslide. If he does the same for our area, it will make programs available to help individuals and businesses affected by the fires. And as Senator Cantwell heard this past Sunday afternoon, when she met at Twisp City Hall with the mayors of Twisp, Winthrop, Brewster and Pateros, the current and long-term economic effects of the fires are huge.
I had spoken with Senator Cantwell shortly after the fires began; she was interested in visiting then, but decided to delay her trip for one week after we talked. I think the wait helped, because by Sunday the city leaders (who were joined by some council members and business leaders) had a better sense of how their communities could benefit from federal assistance. Also, Senator Cantwell saw the fire zones in person on Monday, which could only have helped with getting a letter sent to the president.
While I have been busy with wildfire-relief things all around our district, my focus for the past couple of days has been on the Pateros School District. The school was used as the evacuation center at the beginning of the Carlton Complex fire, then it was evacuated because the fire came right next to the building.
The Pateros school superintendent contacted me this week about building damage and other issues that need to be addressed before school starts in less than a month. As a result, a group of people (school district, Senate, House, the state budget office and the state's K-12 education office) are now doing something similar to a medical triage, identifying what needs to be repaired or replaced or supplied and how to go about it.
Money is set aside in the state treasury for emergency situations such as this; the expectation is that the state will cover costs associated with helping Pateros students begin classes on schedule, and be reimbursed either by insurance, or the federal government (because the school was used as an emergency shelter). In my 18 years as a legislator I have not been through a situation where a natural disaster has resulted in such a time-sensitive need for assistance, so we are all learning from this together.
Speaking of assistance, we know many people lost cellphone service for extended periods because of the fires, regardless of whether they suffered other losses. It is not unusual for service providers to offer a credit to customers in the event of a service interruption that is not the customer's fault, but it is also not something that is done automatically. I have raised the subject with wireless companies, which serve our area. What happens now is their call, but the question has been asked.
In the meantime, people may now go to the city halls in Pateros, Brewster, Twisp and Winthrop for brochures about preparing wildfire-related insurance claims. Because so many 12th District residents had lost internet access, including through their cellular phones, they could not go online for those suggestions; when the property-insurance industry asked me about making a printed version of the information available in those communities, I said yes, knowing that might be more convenient.
The most effective way to assist victims continues to be through donations of money to the Apple Valley Red Cross or the Community Foundation of NCW.
Apple Valley Red Cross: 12 Orondo Ave, Wenatchee; (509) 663-3907 or e-mail
Community Foundation of NCW: 9 S. Wenatchee Ave., Wenatchee; (509) 663-7716 or cfncw.org
I continue to be grateful for the work of the firefighters who have been battling these fires for more than three weeks, and the Red Cross and volunteers who are providing support for people displaced by the fires. While so many have had their lives disrupted, people are sharing with me their reasons to be optimistic. One of our major employers has seen local customers chased away by the fires yet picked up some unexpected and significant business from west of the Cascades. It included a visit by a busload of people from the area affected by the Oso landslide, who purposely made the trip to economically support another part of Washington hit by disaster. Things like that are welcome as the people of this region work to bounce back.
As always, I welcome your questions and thoughts about any matter pertaining to state government. I'm here to serve you, so please feel free to contact me anytime via email or by phone in Olympia at (360) 786-7622 if I can be of assistance to you or your family in any way.
Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Washington State Senate.