At 3:30 pm on Labor Day Monday in Rosalia, Washington, one of Family Resource Home Care’s caregivers* was leaving her long-time client’s house for the day as usual. As soon as she stepped out the front door, she saw an intensely black cloud of smoke, which had become much denser than the already hazardously smoky air from earlier in the day. Soon after she saw the ominous cloud, she started to see flames. She knew her client was in danger and needed to be evacuated. She then received a call from the other client she sees on Monday mornings, who also needed to be evacuated.
After a split-second calculation, she knew she needed help. Rather than calling 911 and being put on hold by overwhelmed dispatchers, she directly contacted the County Sheriff to assist her in evacuating the client. The wind was blowing at over 90 miles per hour and the smoke was visibly getting worse.
The Sheriff rushed over to the house and helped lift the client into her wheelchair. This caregiver grabbed a handful of belongings and got her into the car of a neighbor who drove her to safety. All the while, the client was resisting, as she couldn’t understand what was going on. This client has advanced dementia and would not have been able to get herself out. She was unable to understand what was happening, what her caregiver and the County Sheriff were doing, why they were leaving, or where they were taking her.
Once this client was in the clear, the caregiver rushed to check on her other client she normally sees on Monday mornings, who she had left earlier that day. The County Sheriff instructed her to hold off on that client since that area was no longer in the path of the fire.
In about just 15 minutes, 85% of Malden, Washington was gone. Neighboring Rosalia was just as devastated. The client lost her home and all of her belongings. She is now living with her guardian until other accommodations can be made.
It took over a week for the client to fully grasp what happened to her home. For days, the client demanded that she be taken home, wondering where she was and why she was there. Her caregiver had to carefully explain to her, sometimes multiple times a day, that she can’t go home. That everything is gone. The client comprehends the situation more now, but sometimes waivers back and forth between confusion and comprehension.
This caregiver has been caring for this client for 7 years. In that time, she has learned her mannerisms, her preferences, how to improve the safety and familiarity of her home. Now, she has to start over from scratch. “Nothing is gonna be the same,” she stated. “We had our routine down pat, but now everything’s off-kilter.” In her new surroundings, the client is very confused and doesn’t know where the bathroom or her bed is.
This caregiver expressed immense gratitude for the community effort in ensuring that everyone made it out safely. “Thank you to the firemen and the county sheriffs. They were running wild getting ready. No one was prepared for it.” Even farmers came in with tractors full of water to help. Even though a lot was lost, including a firetruck, “we have to be thankful no one got hurt”.
After the devastation, members of the community have given donations. “We had tremendous support from the community here. Even though we have coronavirus – last week, nobody cared.”
The entirety of the following week was spent trying to readjust the client’s schedule, and collect clothing and items from community donations. Once things had calmed, her caregiver didn’t sleep for days after surviving the horror of that day. “It’s still so emotional. I’ve never had to do this in my life. I’ve been a part of this community all my life,” she said through choked tears.
We are so grateful she was there and had the lightning-fast reaction that she did. We are grateful to our team in Palouse, who spent hours on the phone with her after the incident. This caregiver undoubtedly saved her client’s life. She insists we also thank the firemen, community members, and county sheriffs since she couldn’t have done it alone. “Thank god it all worked out and nobody got hurt.”
*The modest caregiver preferred not to be identified for this story.