Wildfires destroyed or damaged hundreds of home on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.
Susan Kim Susan
By Susan Kim*
August 7, 2012—Three and half weeks after a wildfire incinerated their home, LuAnna Fox sits at the table in her family's temporary three-bedroom home, still trying to come to terms with what happened. As her six children – ages 12, 10, 8, 3, 2, and 1 – play around them, Fox and her husband hesitate to talk about their plan for the longterm.
“Right now, we don't even have the energy to go dig for any salvageable items,” admitted Fox. “We're devastated.” Their loss is made even more painful by the fact that, before the fire hit, she and her husband were on better financial footing than they'd ever been.
“For the first time in our lives, we had everything. The kids had electronics, a trampoline, a swing set. It took me a lot of years to get that,” she said, “a lot of hard work.”
The family lives on the North Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southeast Montana. Nearly one quarter of the 440,000-acre reservation burned when the Ash Creek fire, fueled by 50 mph winds and tinder-dry brush, drove a fiery wall of flame through the community. Twenty-three homes were destroyed, and hundreds of others have smoke damage.
The tribe offered Fox and her family temporary housing, but at some yet-to-be-known point, they'll be charged rent. They hope they'll soon receive a three-bedroom trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Fox and other fire survivors have been picking up items from a donations center on the reservation, where churches and other community groups have been contributing and distributing items.
At least a dozen truckloads came from the First United Methodist Church, about 100 miles away in Sheridan, Wyoming. JuDee Anderson, chair of the church's Native American Ministry, helped lead the response effort. Because she already had a long-term relationship with the reservation, she could quickly ascertain what donations would help the most. “People were in dire need after the fire,” she said.
Now, Anderson and other responders report that cash donations—rather than material goods—will help the most as the Northern Cheyenne people start on the road to long-term recovery. UMCOR gave a $10,000 emergency grant to the Yellowstone Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church to assist with immediate response.
More will be needed over the long term, said Anderson. “We will need help rebuilding homes and refurnishing homes with smoke damage.”
There are emotional needs as well, she added, especially because the wildfire unexpectedly jumped the 30-foot-wide Tongue River, which the community has always regarded as a buffer from fire. “When the fire hit the river, they were all looking forward to the fire stopping. But it went over the river and there was no respite.”
For now people are finding at least a temporary respite at the donations center, where they gather in fellowship and pick up the items they need, one day at a time, even while they sort out a long-term plan.
Fox said that knowing someone cares is what helps her to be able to function. “That's what has saved us,” she said. “The people at the donations center knew which families lost everything. I'm so grateful for everybody who gave so much, because even a Band-Aid was a lot for us.”
Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, will help the Northern Cheyenne people and others across the United States who are in dire need following a natural disaster.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.