Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sevier County Couple Volunteers to Help with Wildfire Response


By J. Suzanne Horsley/American Red Cross

Robert Ishee points to the stream of
melted aluminum from this burned-out
car in Gatlinburg. These stone columns
 mark the former entrance to a home
overlooking the town of Gatlinburg.
In the intense heat of the fire,
glass shattered and fused into
abstract snowflake designs.
After Robert Ishee retired from the military, he and his wife, Karla, who is a nurse, made the Eastern Tennessee mountains their home. They both felt compelled to help their community when the wildfires destroyed homes throughout the Sevier County region. Right after the fires, they signed up with their local chapter of the American Red Cross, completed their initial volunteer training, and went to work helping with disaster assessment.

Disaster assessment (DA) is a critical part of the Red Cross response efforts after a disaster, whether it’s a single-family house fire or thousands of homes destroyed by a natural disaster. DA teams visit affected areas and determine how many homes were destroyed or damaged. In the case of the Gatlinburg wildfires, the DA teams have supported client casework by verifying the extent of damage to the homes
owned by those who sought help from the Red Cross.

Robert and Karla took me on their route through the Gatlinburg mountains to show me where they had been working. The neighborhoods, which were built along narrow, winding roads, were once heavily forested and dotted with homes of all shapes and sizes. They are now reduced to ash-covered concrete
foundations, spindly blackened trees, and unrecognizable skeletons of vehicles. Occasionally we would drive past a home that was completely untouched and could see where the fire had skipped over it like a giant game of checkers. The Ishees explained that winds in excess of 80 miles per hour had blown melting strips of vinyl siding up into the trees and over the power lines. The intense fires melted the aluminum in vehicles and fused shattered glass into abstract snowflakes.

The pungent smell of burned wood, rubber and metal floated in the air as we stopped to chat with a
family of tourists who went to see the remains of their favorite rental cabin. Further down the road, a
construction crew had started work to clear the remains of a house to start rebuilding.

The Ishees said they have enjoyed their experience and plan to complete more Red Cross training
classes so that they can continue to serve as volunteers. All disasters are local, and organizations like the
American Red Cross depend on volunteers to fulfill their mission in disaster relief. Get involved, get
trained, and get ready for the next disaster by visiting your local Red Cross chapter, or call 1-800-REDCROSS to find the chapter nearest you.

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