In the midst of one of the driest summers in Utah history, the Red Cross is trying to stay one step ahead of every fire.
One morning, it may be tasked with feeding more than 100 firefighters.
That same day, miles away, it may have to open another shelter. Dozens of fires have already burned this summer, and dozens more likely will come most without much warning.
"It's really a lot like taking 500 people camping with two hours' notice," said Teresa Zundel, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Utah Region. "Only there's no end date to the camping trip."
Since June 29, Utah Red Cross has assisted nearly 1,500 evacuees at five different shelters, serving more than 4,500 meals and 3,000 bottles of water. Although it has yet to request out-of-state assistance, that necessity looms. Current response crews have worked nonstop for nearly two weeks; if more fires erupt, the state chapter likely will file a request to the national Red Cross office for additional help.
The Red Cross usually redirects volunteers from neighboring states first, with requests rippling farther outward as needed.
With fires burning throughout Colorado and other parts of the West, any assistance Utah receives could come from states such as Nevada or California.
So far, however, the state chapter has been able to rely on its own volunteers and resources. Earlier this year, Utah Red Cross expanded its number of stockpiles of cots, toiletries and other supplies across the state in anticipation of the dry summer. Trying to ensure an influx of resources is now a matter of pushing for more partnerships with local organizations and publicizing the need for volunteers.
"We've prepared as best we can, but we never know what's going to happen," Zundel said. "We can never allow ourselves to be in a position to think, 'We're good.' It's a work in progress."
The Red Cross' existing partnerships provide a framework for what will happen when disaster strikes. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may provide food, which is then cooked by the Southern Baptist kitchen.
Utah Red Cross recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the LDS Church to help streamline the logistics of disaster relief.
Potential shelter locations also are examined and listed in advance.
Currently, the Red Cross has enough throughout the state for 250,000 people.
In most instances, local companies and stores readily step in to offer supplies. At the Dump Fire in Saratoga Springs last month, Home Depot donated kits of wooden toys to keep children occupied, while Walmart and Del Taco sent food, water and other supplies. When the shelter closed, leftover snacks and supplies were diverted farther south to the Sanpete County fires.
"They'll just hear what's going on, hear we're having a shelter, and the organizations will show up and say, 'Hey, we've got stuff. We can help you out,' " said West Valley City resident Michael Todd, who has worked three fires since he began volunteering in April. "It's completely wonderful."
However, the Red Cross does not accept food donations on a small scale such as a family's baked goods due to the organization's inability to screen them and ensure safety. The best way for individuals to help is to donate to the Red Cross disaster relief fund, which helps provide the organization with the means and flexibility to acquire additional supplies, such as infant formula or prescription medication, on short notice.
The relief fund also helps provide free training for all Red Cross volunteers another path to consider.
"To hear the compliments of a family that has stayed here or just giving the small comforts of talking to someone whose house has been destroyed, it brings a lot of joy," Todd said. "That's why I do it."
Get involved How to help the Red Cross
I Donations to the Red Cross disaster relief fund can be made at http://www.redcross.org, or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767)