Quickly Assisting Neighbors when Wildfire Strikes

Couple looking over wildfire area

Looking out for our neighbors in the communities we call home means offering immediate support in challenging times. When late summer wildfires ravaged towns in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, we responded quickly, donating $75,000 and activating our no-fee, no-interest Community Cares loan.

On August 18, 2023, two fast-moving wildfires started and raged through the communities of Medical Lake and Elk, Wash., located west and north of Spokane, respectively. The first would eventually burn about 10,000 acres and destroy 240 homes and 86 other buildings. The second would scorch nearly 11,000 acres and destroy 126 primary residences and 258 outbuildings.

As crews fought the blazes, we gave $75,000 to the American Red Cross to help fund on-the-ground relief, including emergency shelters, meals, necessities and reunifications with loved ones separated while evacuating. We also made our Community Cares 0% Interest, No-Fee Natural Disaster Relief personal loan available to folks directly impacted by the wildfires. When another wildfire ravaged Orofino, Idaho, August 29, we offered the loan there too.

The loan helps with acute needs when other funding and assistance isn’t yet available after natural disasters, explained Craig Sievertsen, our Small Business and Consumer Lending Director. We’ve activated this special loan, which extends up to $15,000 per approved borrower, a few times in recent years to assist people in areas we serve that have been hit by wildfire and floods. In addition to lending money at no cost to the borrower, we streamlined the application process to make it easier for people to get funds quickly for basic needs like food, clothing and lodging.

Our Cheney, Wash., Branch Manager Sabrina Martinez is well aware of the devastation the fires caused and the relief our loan provided. She lives near the fire that swept through Elk, and her branch is about 10 miles from Medical Lake. The Cheney Branch assisted several borrowers impacted by the wildfire there and, in fact, closed early for safety the day the fire started. Two of her team members were among those evacuated from the fire zone.

“People used the loan for good things and to start projects while waiting for insurance money,” Sabrina said.

One borrower, who had been living in a camp trailer because wildfire razed the house he was renting, used loan funds to secure a home. He was able to pay the deposit as well as first and last months’ rent, thanks to the loan. Another borrower used the loan to refurbish a garage so his parents could live there after their home was destroyed. And a teller on Sabrina’s team got a loan to replace tools her husband used for work that were in a garage that burned down.

Contributing to the Red Cross and making funds available to help people meet basic needs and start to get back on their feet are part of our ongoing commitment to do the right thing for our clients and the community.