“I Know You”

On a sunny October afternoon, a young EMT pulled long-time Red Cross disaster volunteer Diane Dunder from the tangled wreckage of her SUV after another driver lost consciousness and struck her.  “I know you,” the young woman told Diane.  “You were my teacher in high school.”  Diane recalled how that young EMT made sure she was calmed and comforted.

Red Cross disaster relief volunteer Diane Dunder talks with Joan and John Belch.
Diane Dunder talks with Joan and John Belch about American Red Cross disaster relief services following the Germann Road Wildfire in western Wisconsin.

Two years later, Diane was at a Red Cross shelter when she ran into that young woman’s parents, who had lost their home during the Germann Road Wildfire near Solon Springs, Wisconsin, in May 2013.

“I know you,” Diane said.  Now it was her turn to provide comfort.

John Belch and his wife Joan lost almost everything in the wildfire that overnight destroyed over 8,700 acres of woodland and 77 structures, including John and Joan’s home, garage, and many of their belongings.

Joan wasn’t home when fire erupted in their yard. Earlier that afternoon John had watched fire trucks come in and out of their rural neighborhood without much concern.  Their home wasn’t in danger.  Then a sudden switch in the wind put the Belch home directly in the path of the blaze. Joan cried as she remembered learning from her son that her home was gone.

“The Red Cross was great,” John told Dunder and Red Cross worker, Nancy Rogers, who stopped in to check on them and deliver Red Cross comfort kits. “The help you gave us has really come in handy.”

The 3,000 pine trees that John Belch had planted since 1996 will never recover from the fire.  The sound of logging equipment harvesting the burned trees to be recycled into fence posts was a steady back-beat to the sound of brightly colored goldfinches that flitted through the blackened branches.  However, the Belch family is ready to start making plans, thanks in part to a twist of fate that brought them in contact with Diane Dunder and the American Red Cross.

The couple said that they’ve learned from the experience and are making sure they are prepared and have a plan in place in case disaster strikes again.

Free information about disaster preparedness is available at www.redcross.org.

Story and photo by Judy Hanne Gonzalez/American Red Cross

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