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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Newton tells of harrowing wildfire experience

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ann Newton recently spoke with the Greencastle Rotary Club regarding her experiences in Southern California during last years fire outbreak. Here she is pictured accepting the Red Cross Award from Leadership Council Representatives Brad Johnson and Ginger Scott.
Ann Newton received a phone call on Oct. 20, 2007, telling her to be ready to leave as soon as possible.

Her destination was to be the 2007 Southern California Wildfires.

Newton is a social worker for the Red Cross and recently was awarded the "Outstanding Service Award" for 2008 from the Greencastle Red Cross. She spoke to the Greencastle Rotary Club this week about her experience in Southern California.

Newton said after receiving the call on Oct. 20, she was on the plane three days later.

"I keep a bag packed because we are told to be ready to leave within 24 hours of the initial phone call," Newton said.

She flew into the fire zone under cover of night and explained how the fire looked like lava from the plane due to it being so large.

"I thought of Dante's Inferno when I arrived," Newton explained. "It was just so hot."

There were 20 separate blazes caused by the Santa Ana Trade Winds blowing from the desert towards the sea. This stripped from the ground and vegetation.

Though the 2007 wasn't the biggest fire as far as acreage was concerned which happened in 2003, there was a larger population affected.

"There were a million people displaced, that's a bigger migration than [Hurricane} Katrina," Newton interjected.

Newton said she believes the reason the fire was so devastating was due to people now building on mountaintops. There were only 10 people documented being killed by the fire due to a reverse 911 program.

"People who were in immediate danger were called and told to evacuate," Newton said. "There were many undocumented cases where [illegal immigrants] were caught in the valleys and suffocated because the fire moved so quickly due to the wind speed."

Her purpose at this site was to talk to people in the refugee camps. She said when people are able to talk about things it moves the idea from one side of the brain to the other which helps reduce or alleviate the possibility of post-traumatic stress.

In a candid moment, Newton told the Rotary Club about her experience on the first couple nights sleeping in the hallway of a school turned emergency shelter.

"We were given these hairy blankets and the only way to keep warm from the breeze in the hallway was to sleep in the middle of the blanket on the cot."

During her slideshow, she explained how astonished she was by the sheer heat of the fire. With melted tires on cars, caused explosions from propane tanks attached to modular homes and exploding bamboo trees, the pictures showed the aftermath that razed entire neighborhoods to the ground.

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