BABBITT – As firefighters welcomed weekend rains to gain a foothold at the 26,000-acre Greenwood Fire, the American Red Cross Northland Chapter’s temporary evacuation shelter at the …
BABBITT – As firefighters welcomed weekend rains to gain a foothold at the 26,000-acre Greenwood Fire, the American Red Cross Northland Chapter’s temporary evacuation shelter at the Babbitt Municipal Center was closed on Monday.
Officials said the decision was made due to the changing needs of the people affected by the nearby wildfire. The Red Cross said even though the shelter closed after just a week, services are still available, and to call 1-844-292-7677 for assistance.
Just down the street, the U.S. Forest Service was using the city’s ice arena to serve firefighters battling the blaze some 15 miles away.
Last Saturday morning, the gymnasium in the former school building had just one cot set up for a lone evacuation client.
Red Cross shelter manager Rod Winters said that just the one evacuee used the shelter since it was opened earlier last week.
“We originally opened in Finland,” he said, “and moved here to Babbitt after no one there needed to shelter. Based on the characteristics of the fire, supervisors considered there was heightened risk on this side of the fire and determined this was an ideal place for a shelter.”
Winters said one woman who sought brief shelter at the Finland evacuation center last week was picked up by a family member and did not spend the night.
“The one client here in Babbitt was forced to evacuate her home and has been here for two or three days,” he said.
“Anytime there is a disaster, such as this fire, we work with emergency management and others to determine the possible impact on people and are asked to open a shelter that is safe from the emergency but also is easily accessible to those being displaced,” Winters said.
The Babbitt shelter could comfortably accommodate up to 100 people for several days or a week, if necessary, he added.
“In northern Minnesota here there are a lot of self-sufficient people, and a lot of these are cabins and recreational spaces and not necessarily permanent residences, so it stands to reason that many people have other sheltering options. It is not surprising that we have a low (shelter) population. At the same time, it is important for emergency management that there be a safe place for those who need it,” Winters said.
The Red Cross evacuation center’s mission is primarily to provide shelter.
“We have a warm place for our evacuees to sleep,” Winters said. “We provide cots and blankets. We provide meals for those who are forced to shelter here. We have snacks and water available 24 hours too.”
Bathroom facilities are available and off-site shower accommodations are also nearby. “If we had a larger population of evacuees we would make sure we have showers available more readily,” he added.
An integral part of the Red Cross shelter is to have health services available for evacuees. “We have retired nurses staff the shelter 24 hours a day. Some people who do come in may have health care needs. We can assess those needs and accommodate any care they may need,” Winters said. “We assist those people with chronic conditions. It is not uncommon that people may leave their place without glasses or medications. We can help mitigate that.”
All evacuees and volunteers are offered three meals a day. A visitor to the Red Cross Shelter Saturday morning was invited to join the shelter staff and volunteers for lunch in the senior center dining room. They were serving fajitas, beans and rice.
Winters noted that the American Red Cross focuses on three areas of emergency services. “We prepare, respond and recover. We offer community education on the prepare side, such as having a to-go bag ready to go,” he said. Take you medications and important papers. We help people to think through what they would need if forced to evacuate. Still we have cases where people forget some things.”
To help people feel more comfortable while at an evacuation center, the Red Cross makes mental health services available.
“Sometimes people may just want to talk to somebody. They may have some stress issues. We want to be a safe place and keep the stress level low and quiet. We realize that it is very traumatic to be evacuated from your home. We make this a friendly and safe place for whatever period of time they are here,” Winter said.
As many as 40 individual volunteers helped with the evacuation centers over the last two weeks, he added.
“The Red Cross also collaborates with St. Louis County and Lake County emergency management officials. We also work with Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Health in staffing this shelter, also with providing supplies and resources,” he said.
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