Help on the home front

American Red Cross volunteers assist fire victims in Craig

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Nathan James Demarais has lived through more alarming events in two months than many people experience in their entire lives.

The infant, born in November in the passenger seat of his father's Jeep, will likely not remember his dramatic birth.

Jamie Mitchell gave birth to Nathan outside of Milner as her boyfriend, Mike Demarais, raced through a blinding snowstorm, trying desperately to get to Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.

On Saturday afternoon, Nathan experienced another unexpected event when his parents' rented Shadow Mountain mobile home caught fire.

Despite Craig Fire/Rescue's 4:15 p.m. response to and containment of the fire, the blaze destroyed the home's interior, ignited from what Deputy Fire Chief Bill Johnston said appeared to have started from a cigarette in a couch.

"I haven't recovered anything," said a devastated Mitchell.

The decimated home of Mitchell and Demarais, described by Johnston as a total loss, was home to Nathan, in addition to the couple's three other children, all younger than 5.

The American Red Cross and United Way have provided Mitchell and Demarais with the necessary funds for lodging at a local motel until they can find a new residence.

"I'm worried because I can't find a place to rent with at least three bedrooms," Mitchell said. "Of course I need any furniture, and especially any kids' beds, blankets, clothes and diapers, size 5 and 3."

Mitchell feels fortunate to live in a town like Craig where the Red Cross makes a direct impact on the lives of those displaced by disasters.

Red Cross' help

President Bush recognizes the Red Cross' work, too. He's declared March Red Cross Month.

"(The Red Cross) is great," Mitchell said. "They always return my calls whenever and always help me when I need it. They've never not succeeded for me."

Craig has a Red Cross resource center, which is run by Moffat-Rio Blanco County area lead Dan Bingham and is prepared to respond to emergencies and allocate supplies when a call is routed through the 24-hour Centennial Chapter dispatch center.

"We respond to the given disaster -- fires, floods, wind damage, storms -- and step in to provide the resources to restore normalcy," Bingham said.

Bingham estimates that about 22 Red Cross volunteers are on his area "roster," with about 16 on the "active roster."

With drastic regional weather differences this winter across Colorado, Bingham worries there aren't enough volunteer for a summer that could stretch volunteers thin because of fires and floods.

"In 2002, Centennial Chapter members from Craig traveled down to help the Mile High Chapter with the Hayman Fire," Bingham said.

Providing assistance for the largest fire in Colorado's history prepared Bingham for his role on a shelter management logistics team as part of the Red Cross' Hurricane Katrina disaster relief efforts.

"It was a life-changing experience," Bingham said of service that solidified his commitment to the organization.

"It's unbelievable, the resources that the Red Cross has. ... They have no political ties, no religious ties, they are pure humanitarian."

Be prepared

Bingham said volunteers are welcome, and families need to be ready for disasters.

"We have all seen the truth of the past year, from the tornadoes this past weekend to the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, that even in the best-case scenario, we have to be prepared to take care of ourselves," said Ken Williams, chief executive officer of the Red Cross Centennial Chapter.

Williams said he recommends local families prepare by making a disaster kit in the event they are cut off from aid for eight to 72 hours. Instructions and advice for making kits to keep people safe, dry and warm without access to electricity, water or a telephone are available on the Red Cross Web site, www.redcross.org.

"This is a great time to reflect and ask, 'Am I ready for a heavy spring storm or a May flood? Do I know where to go?' It's time to make a plan, get a kit, get trained, volunteer and remember to pump up the blood supply," Williams said.

Williams said he hopes Craig residents can learn more about the vital role of the Red Cross from the loss experienced by Jamie Mitchell, Mike Demarais and their children.

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