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Cali Owings, Published August 04 2013

Volunteers offer Hawley, Minn., residents help after tragic fire

HAWLEY, Minn. – The house where a fire here claimed a teenager’s life last Sunday still sits surrounded by yellow police tape.

On the corner of Sixth Street and Elizabeth Street, mourners created a tribute to Rylie Efterfield, the 15-year-old girl who died in the early morning fire.

They’re both visual reminders to neighbors and passerby of the tragic fire.

To help the community cope with the loss, volunteers and staff for the American Red Cross canvassed the area near the home Saturday afternoon talking with neighbors impacted by the fire.

Disaster Mental Health volunteers visited about 40 homes to talk with residents, identify their needs and point them to resources for support.

Gauging reactions

Even a single deadly fire can be a traumatic event for communities, especially smaller ones like Hawley, said Sean Coffman, emergency services director for the American Red Cross Minn-Kota region.

“Tight-knit communities … feel the sting of it pretty severely,” Coffman said.

Any sort of traumatic event “shatters our sense of safety,” he said. “It’s important that we recreate that world of safety around ourselves.”

Through listening to neighbors and hearing their stories, Disaster Mental Health volunteers can help those impacted manage their reaction to the event.

Shelley Guida, a Disaster Mental Health responder who also lives in Hawley, said she asked residents whether they were sleeping well, had lost their appetite or were having intrusive thoughts.

By gauging those reactions, Guida said she was able to point people toward the help they need.

“They’ve never had something like this happen before. They don’t know who to call or what to do,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599