Tonasket reopens evacuation shelter

An emergency Evacuation Shelter in Tonasket received residents from Riverside Tuesday, Aug. 17, after fires near Conconully and Tunk Mountain forced them to evacuate their homes.
The shelter was established Friday, Aug. 14, at the Tonasket High School by North Valley Hospital staff with beds, food and doctors on call after the American Red Cross had to relocate their shelter in Oroville to Pateros.
Six people were served over the weekend, with accommodations made for five dogs and two cats. The Tonasket Comancheros have volunteered the use of the rodeo grounds for stock animals if necessary.
NVH CEO Mike Zwicker called together a Disaster Relief Team meeting Friday evening to establish the shelter, staffed by NVH employees. Several staff members had to be called away from the Omak Stampede, where they were participating in the Tough Enough to Wear Pink night.
“We are set up as an Alternate Care Facility like a M.A.S.H. unit,” said Jana Symonds on Saturday, Aug. 15. Symonds is the Patient Finances Manager at NVH. “We’ll care for the “walking wounded” here, and have a doctor on site if need be.” She said no injuries had been reported, with smoke inhalation victims being treated at the hospital to get their oxygen levels up.
According to Symonds, the hospital pays the employee wages, which will later be reimbursed with emergency funds by the state.
“We are lucky to have the support of North Valley Hospital Food Services, which provided three meals a day to our volunteers and to the people that were utilizing the shelter,” said Mayor Patrick Plumb. “I would like to thank North Valley Hospital Administrator Mike Zwicker for leading this effort, and I would also like to give special thanks to Kim Jacobs for coordinating a lot of the resources on the fly. Kim over the years has been leading NVH in disaster preparedness, and the experience she brought to this was invaluable.”
Plumb also expressed gratitude to people in the community who helped by providing kennels for the animals.
“North Valley Hospital would like to thank the Tonasket School District for all of their help by using their facilities, and for their staff assistance,” added Plumb, a NVH employee.
The shelter opened around 8:30 p.m. Friday evening after being set up by Tonasket School District Maintenance Supervisor John Verbeck and NVH’s Plant Engineer John Sanchez.
One evacuee from South Pine Creek sought shelter that first evening for about four hours before her family called to let her know the fire had moved away from her home.
A Chesaw resident who was evacuated sought shelter and sleep Saturday, Aug. 15 after helping with the fire and being awake for 36 hours.
Hospital employees work in two-hour shifts and plan to take on longer shifts if utilization of the shelter picks up.
“If it gets busy, the shifts go out the window and we just stay as long as necessary,” Symonds said.
Showers are available at the school, along with 25 beds. The kitchen is available for the hospital staff to prepare meals, and Beyer’s Market has volunteered to donate food.
“For now, though, it’s easier to just bring food in,” Symonds. “A crew at Subway offered to make sandwiches if need be.”
“We’re hoping we don’t get more people, but we’re ready if we do,” stated Payge Fries, Health Information Manager with NVH who was working alongside Symonds and NVH employee Patti Hill Saturday evening, Aug. 15.
“I am proud of the Tonasket community reaching out to help their neighbors in such a time of need, in particular North Valley Hospital administration and employees staffing the evacuation shelter after the Red Cross was forced to move their shelter in Oroville,” said Plumb. “Thank you to the Gazette Tribune for the coverage, and please stay alert for fires in your area and know that the City of Tonasket and North Valley Hospital hopes and prays that all of our neighbors in the North End of the County stays safe and their property remains protected.”