Relief center rose up quickly to help evacuees

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A fire relief center set up in Eureka to help people and pets evacuated from the Caribou Fire is now winding down as residents of the West Kootenai area were able to return home on Sunday.

The outpouring of assistance from Northwest Montana, including the Flathead Valley, Libby and Eureka areas was amazing, said Tracy McIntyre, who helped coordinate the relief effort.

“It kind of happened organically. We put it together and manned the phones 12 hours a day, then 10, and now we’re winding down,” McIntyre said.

Residents of nearly 200 homes were evacuated Sept. 2 when the lightning-sparked Caribou Fire burned east toward the small community on the west side of Lake Koocanusa. Approximately 40 structures were destroyed, including 10 homes.

As of Monday the fire had burned close to 20,000 acres and was about 25 percent contained. Pre-evacuation orders remain in place as gusty winds were forecast for Monday evening.

Eureka-area organizations and churches jumped into action to provide basic necessities for the evacuees. A local animal shelter housed more than 80 evacuated small pets and larger animals were cared for at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds.

Residents opened up their homes for evacuees and provided campers. Riverstone Family Lodge housed some people and Abayance Bay Marino opened up its campgrounds.

“We had about 200 who were displaced for about a week, staying at various different places. This is where the community shined through,” McIntyre said. “We had people all over the place.”

She expects the relief center to release its volunteer corps on Wednesday.

The evacuees included a mix of Amish residents, retires and longtime rural families. Some pre-evacuees chose to leave their homes, too.

“It was a mix of people; it’s a really cool community,” she said. “You could see the neighborly compassion for each other.”

Residents and businesses from the Flathead Valley provided supplies and several people drove up with loads of necessities. Donations helped supply the local fire departments that assisted on the fire, including the Trego-Fortine-Stryker and West Kootenai departments.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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