Uintah Basin community rallies around neighbors impacted by wildfires

Jul 3, 2018, 5:55 PM | Updated: 9:21 pm

FRUITLAND, Utah – So many people have been chased out of their homes over the last 24 hours by the Dollar Ridge Fire east of Strawberry Reservoir, it’s as though an entire town needs help with food, shelter and other necessities.

Fortunately, people from throughout the Uintah Basin have stepped up to offer whatever they can, and the offers for all kinds of help started pouring in right after people heard about the fire.

Connie Case was already cooking her second major meal for evacuees at Duchesne High School, which has turned into the main evacuation center.

“We just started bringing stuff last night. The community heard about it on Facebook,“ said Case.

Case and a few friends from surrounding communities cooked up a barbecue chicken feast for dozens of evacuees Tuesday.

“We are a community,“ she said.

She said she worked at Stewart’s Market in Roosevelt, about 30 miles away. When she and other employees heard about the evacuations and the devastation of the fire Monday, they got to work gathering donated food items and grills.

Before long they had plenty of food donations and grills to cook pancakes and eggs for breakfast and set their sights on dinner.

“We’ve done everything together,” said Case. “We spend our lives together. Our kids play ball together. We’re just a community that pitches in.”

At the Walmart in Vernal, about an hour from where the fire was burning, employees also mobilized to help.

“What can we do as a team to help our family, our local family?” asked store manager, Brad Cowgur.

They started their day with that question. Nearly all employees at the Vernal store grew up in the Unitah Basin. They know people who have evacuated from their homes. Many of those people are their customers every day.  So, they loaded up a few pallets with critical items for firefighters evacuees in the summer heat.

“Blankets, suntan lotion, nonperishable food items,“ said Cowgur, showing the items they unloaded.

Store employees would be focused on the Fourth of July holiday coming up Wednesday.

“What comes first is people in their safety,” he said. “So, that’s where our focus is going to be today.“

They were focused on helping their neighbors shop in their store.

“We’re just here to prove were there for them anytime they need us,“ said Cowgur.

All day at the high school, people showed up with a steady flow of food, drinks and necessities to donate. More than 150 people have already signed up to volunteer for all kinds of help.

“This is exactly the fabric of our community,” said Alisse Coil who was registering volunteers. “It’s a mark of who we are. When I came down this morning, I think we had three volunteers for every evacuee that was here.”

People in the rural community offered help with livestock, pets, and places to hook up RVs.

“It’s just people jumping in where they see a need, and then we’re trying to get all of that coordinated and documented – and do the best we can to make sure other people‘s needs are met, as well,“ said Coil.

All evacuees have been asked to go first to the high school for registration, even if they don’t need a place to stay. That way they can connect needs with those who can help, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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Uintah Basin community rallies around neighbors impacted by wildfires