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Wildfire brings out best 'friends'

Photo Credit: SHASTA KEARNS MOORE - Donations of personal hygiene items flood a table at Estacada First Baptist Churchs Red Cross shelter. Linda Arnett is trying to find someone to take donated books, but Red Cross volunteers turn her away, saying they have nowhere to put them.

The manager of the Book Nook nonprofit bookstore in Estacada is taking a break from her Facebook vigil for news on the 3,600-acre 36 Pit Fire that threatens her home and animals.

Arnett says the Facebook group “Estacada Pit 36 Fire Watch” has been her lifeline as she awaits news on whether she, too, needs to be evacuated.

“It’s the only place we’re getting accurate information,” Arnett says. “Nobody is telling the public anything. All the info we’re getting is on Facebook.”

She added that she expects fire and other government officials to be on Facebook answering questions, streaming conferences and posting meeting notices, not just giving the information to news outlets.

“It’s impossible to explain how unnerving it is when, as an adult, you’re not able to get the information you need,” Arnett says.

In the new digital age, it seems, residents are not about to sit around and wait to be told what to do. “Estacada Pit 36 Fire Watch” has 4,445 members and counting who are sharing, requesting, learning and connecting as the community binds together to fight the fire that was being contained late last week.

Estacada resident Teryl Figgins started the Facebook group Sept. 13 with around 20 friends — the same day the fire roared to life — and within 24 hours it had grown to more than 1,000 friends. “I didn’t believe how quickly it exploded,” Figgins says. “It was crazy.”

Figgins said she started the group because she kept seeing people worrying about the fire elsewhere on Facebook.

“It was a need that I saw and thought: ‘I can do this. It’s just a few clicks on the internet,’” Figgins said.

The Estacada resident left for a pre-planned vacation Monday evening, Sept. 15, and says the group has been the most accurate source for information for her in Florida. “I watch the news and it’s like: ‘The town is going to be wiped out and all 5,000 people displaced,’ and I’m like, ‘what 5,000 people?’ ”

Figgins says the group has been remarkably positive and mutually supportive, as community members answer each other’s questions and find resources to fill needs.

“I think it’s helping people that are feeling helpless. It gives them a place to say: ‘Hey, I can do this. I may not be able to do much, but I can do this.’ ”

Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: SHASTA KEARNS MOORE - Jaime Narozniak picks out toothbrushes at the Sandy Dollar Tree for evacuees at the Red Cross shelter in Estacada. Narozniak started a Facebook group to organize donations that rapidly grew to nearly 200 members. By Sunday afternoon, Sept. 14, the group expanded to the point of needing a spin-off, called “36 Pit Fire Needs.” Jaime Narozniak, a pediatric nurse in Eagle Creek, was amazed when the group she started grew to around 175 people in 15 hours, with a flood of offers to help.

Monday morning, Sept. 15, Troutdale Albertsons distribution center Superintendent Scott Mellen delivered a truck packed with 45 cases of Gatorade and 20 gallons of water to firefighters and evacuees. A day later, Canby dog owner Deanna Clark took her competition border collies to help round up terrified goats for evacuation.

“It was kind of crazy,” Narozniak says of the outpouring of support, “but that’s the kind of town that Estacada is.”

Narozniak knows this firsthand. As she wheeled herself on a knee scooter around the Sandy Dollar Tree, buying supplies for evacuees with friends, she talked about her own medical struggles. “People that I don’t even know in Estacada came to help my family.” That, she says, is why she wants to do whatever she can now.

She couldn’t do nearly as much without the Facebook group. “It’s instant communication,” Narozniak says. “I think it’s great.”

Disaster relief personnel are pleased with the outpouring of support, but they also say overzealous donors need to check on the needs before bringing donations. Red Cross Shelter Manager Julia Bishop says the emergency aid organization doesn’t take nonmonetary donations directly “because what are we going to do with it when we leave?”

By Shasta Kearns Moore
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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