TILLER — The Tiller community has undertaken a mission to help firefighters connect with their friends and family.
Spotty cellphone service has made reaching home difficult for firefighters assigned to the Whiskey Complex fires six miles east of Tiller in the Umpqua National Forest.
Danielle Lobaugh Newman, 56, of Tiller decided to do something about it. She purchased postcards and stamps for firefighters based at the Milo Adventist Academy fire camp.
Lobaugh Newman is the postmaster at the Tiller Post Office, but said she distributed the postcards as a concerned Tiller resident, independent of her job with the U.S. Postal Service.
“Twice a day I watch processionals of trucks and equipment, full of firefighters, driving to and from the fire ravaged areas. It always brings a lump to my throat as I realize these are someone’s children, their husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers driving to and from incredible danger,” Lobaugh Newman said in an email.
She said her idea stemmed from her personal interests and the fact that she has a brother who is a firefighter, as well as close friends.
When there have been fires in the past, Lobaugh Newman said a temporary cell tower was brought in to provide service. A tower was not immediately available this time around and only select wireless customers have service anyway, she added.
“I thought about how worried I would be if I were at home, desperate for some word from my loved one as I awaited their safe return, and this is how my idea developed,” she said.
Lobaugh Newman and her husband, Gary Newman, 59, purchased 50 picture postcards to donate to the camp. She asked camp information officers to distribute them to anyone needing to send a message home and to place the addressed postcards in the outgoing mail without a stamp.
“It was pretty funny watching some of (the firefighters) try to fill out the postcards,” fire spokeswoman Alexis West said. “They weren’t used to it because they are used to texting. Danielle had to make a flier explaining how to fill them out.”
Lobaugh Newman told camp information officers she would also pay the postage as a “small token of appreciation.”
“It’s really generous of them to take the time to give out postcards,” said Shannon Evans, 45, of Redmond, the operations chief trainee for the Whiskey Complex. “I think it’s awesome for people on the fire to be able to let their families know how they’re doing and communicate.”
Lobaugh Newman said she was shocked by how well received her project was by the community. She originally thought she and her husband could fund the whole project anonymously but realized they couldn’t with growing demand.
At the Aug. 2 community fire meeting, she explained what she was doing and encouraged community members to join. Any money not put toward the postcards would be donated to volunteer fire departments, she said.
“My mission is to make sure every person in that camp is able to send home brief messages of reassurance to those waiting for them to come home safely, for as long as it takes to get the fires out,” Lobaugh Newman said.
Since that meeting, the community response has been overwhelming. Several people have donated postcards and stamps. In less than one week, 250 postcards were distributed to the fire camp and the number has now grown to more than 400, she said.
Kenny Griffin, 39, of Roxboro, N.C., has been removing hazardous trees and snags at the Whiskey Complex fires. He grabbed a postcard Friday morning to write to his wife and three daughters, he said.
“It’s a very helpful and easy way to let our families know what’s going on,” Griffin said. “The families appreciate it.”
Lobaugh Newman and her husband pick up the unstamped cards at a collection site after work and stamp them for mailing the following day. Another volunteer, William E. Shreeve of Days Creek, is handling all donations and funds through an account he set up at Umpqua Bank. People interested in giving money can go to any Umpqua Bank and donate to “Operation Postcard,” Lobaugh Newman said.
“In today’s high-tech world, I find it amazing that something as simple as a postcard, given as a private gesture of appreciation, has gathered so much attention. It makes me very happy to help provide a much-needed service to the people risking their lives to save our homes and forests,” she said. “I know that today, several people in many states received the reassurance they needed, in the form of a newly delivered postcard — a tangible treasure for those waiting for their loved ones to come home.”
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Twice a day I watch processionals of trucks and equipment, full of firefighters, driving to and from the fire ravaged areas. It always brings a lump to my throat as I realize these are someone’s children, their husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers driving to and from incredible danger” -- Lobaugh Newman