A glance around the gymnasium reveals a sea of adults offering Popsicles to individuals lounging about, groups of strangers chatting with each other and happy children hammering away at various projects. Nothing about the scene suggests that this is a receiving center for wildfire evacuees.
A wildfire that started Thursday night near Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain has forced the evacuation of over 1,000 Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain homes and forced residents to seek shelter elsewhere.
While many evacuees have found safety with family members, 200 others have relocated to the Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs. There, evacuees not only receive Popsicles, toys and current information on the status of the fire, but they also receive help and support from local businesses.
The American Red Cross, The Home Depot, Smith’s, Walmart and Del Taco are among the organizations that have banded together to help their community members in any way possible. They have donated their resources, employees and time to aid their neighbors.
The Home Depot, for example, provided respiratory masks to alleviate the effects of the smoke and also donated dozens of mini tool kits to the children with instructions on how to build toys like a model car.
“We’re just trying to aid in making the situation a little more pleasurable for the kids as well as for the adults,” said Rod Palmer, store manager of the Riverton Home Depot. “We’re just trying to make time pass by a little bit quicker.”
Area businesses weren’t the only ones to contribute. Residents unaffected by the wildfire came to Westlake High School to volunteer, both to help family as well as strangers.
Amy Rida, a Sage Valley resident, is among those volunteers. She and her three daughters arrived at Westlake High School and put themselves to work by maintaining and coordinating the snack table provided by Smith’s.
“We came here today so I could show the girls what it was like for the people that have been affected,” Rida said. “It’s been really good for my girls to see what other people are going through.”
Families like the Hardys are especially grateful to have a place to stay during their mandatory evacuation from their neighborhood of Kiowa. They built their home six years ago and are anxious that the fire may damage their home. But despite the circumstances, they are appreciative of the volunteers and the work they have done.
“The donations are amazing and people have been really cool helping keep the kids occupied. It’s been great,” said Maria Hardy.
The fire was started by some target-shooters near a local landfill. It spread from a few hundred acres to 4,000 acres over the course of one day. No structures have been affected. Stay updated and join the conversation by searching #dumpfire on Twitter.