United Way establishes fund to help victims of Seeley Lake, Lolo blazes

Bolstered by gifts from several local businesses, the United Way of Missoula County has raised more than $8,000 over the past week to assist residents impacted by wildfires in Lolo and Seeley Lake.

The Missoula Family YMCA has also opened its facilities to fire evacuees.

From a $5,000 pledge from Providence St. Patrick Hospital to a fundraising booth at Cabela’s recent elk-calling demonstration, the local United Way has grown the fire fund and is now looking to help victims cover basic needs.

“We’re not going to demand unreasonable documentation, but we want to have some demonstration they’ve been effected by the fire,” said Susan Hay Patrick, executive director of the United Way of Missoula County. “Our first grant we made to buy hepa air filters for the Lolo Elementary School.”

The slow but steady advance of the Lolo Peak fire near Lolo, along with the Rice Ridge fire near Seeley Lake, have prompted several rounds of evacuations over the past month.

The latest came Monday night when a mandatory evacuation was issued to 1,200 homes facing an “immediate fire threat” near Seeley Lake.

Air quality in both communities have also taken a toll. The air quality in Seeley Lake on Wednesday was listed as “very unhealthy,” one of the highest ratings issued by the state.

Air quality in Lolo and Missoula was listed as “unhealthy.”

“As of today, we’ve set up two finds, one for Rice Ridge and one for Lolo people,” said Patrick. “We’ve worked with the county in the past on disaster relief. Giving to a trusted organization suited to handle and disperse funds is the best way to donate.”

The official request for a fire fund came from Nick Holloway at the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management. The fund allows donors to make a tax-deductible, charitable contribution to help victims of the two area fires.

A $5,000 pledge from St. Patrick Hospital, a $2,000 pledge from the Gallagher Foundation, and free use of table space offered by Cabela’s has helped push the fund to more than $8,000 in the past week.

“One-hundred percent of donations will go to help families who need it,” said Patrick. “We’ll absorb the admin costs.”

The Missoula Family YMCA on Wednesday also said it will offer free services for area residents displaced from their homes by wildfire evacuations.

Evacuees can access all services, including showers and the Child Watch Center, by picking up a voucher at the American Red Cross shelter at University Congregational Church, located at 405 University Ave.