Arlington man stepped up to supply Oso slide searchers

ARLINGTON — Jimmy Jira knew where to go.

He knew how to get the right stuff to the right people.

And his bosses were behind him, all the way.

Jira, 48, of Arlington, spent the first two weeks after the Oso mudslide delivering supplies to the local loggers who were digging for victims. He coordinated donations and drove Highway 20 to Darrington, day after day, bringing oil, fuel, gloves, chainsaws, socks, boots, beef jerky — whatever was needed.

The supplies were used to stock a makeshift “shop” set up for workers near Steve Skaglund’s house, just east of the slide. When Don and Elaine Young’s basement flooded nearby, Jira showed up with a dehumidifier.

That was just one example, they said.

Jira delivered supplies to Oso, then Darrington, then would come home, check in on his crews at work in the morning and start over again.

He’s a supervisor at Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies in Arlington.

AMT’s parking lot became a hub for donations. People showed up with thousands of dollars worth of food and tools. One man brought up a semi truck and cargo container.

They don’t know how many times they filled that container, how many miles they drove.

It took awhile for the official disaster-response teams to connect with the local loggers and coordinate donations of supplies.

Jira found a way around all of that.

For him, the loss was personal.

He grew up in Arlington, spending plenty of time in Oso with friends, the Bakers. He’d been renting a place in Oso in recent years until he moved back to town in January.

Jira’s sister and her husband, Gail and Ron Thompson, lost their home on Steelhead Drive. His mother, Mary Jira, lived with the Thompsons, so she lost her home, too. The trio had set out for Costco just minutes before the slide. They are grateful to be alive, and sad for the loss of their neighbors.

Ron Thompson taught Jira to fish when he was a boy.

They were fishing the North Fork Stillaguamish River near Steelhead Drive when the same hillside broke in 2006.

“We watched as the river turned into a lake,” Jira said.

On March 22, 2014, Jira was fishing the Quinault River when his phone started to ring — and ring and ring.

“It’s bad,” said a friend in Oso. “Where your sister’s house was is no longer there. All the homes are gone.”

Jira dropped his phone. He tried to call his sister and got a busy signal.

He got hold of the Bakers, his childhood friends. Their neighborhood was being evacuated over fear of flooding.

They didn’t know where to go.

Jira told them: my place.

“I had a houseful of people that Saturday night,” he said.

In those first few days, he knew locals were out digging in the mud.

“They needed supplies. I decided, I need to be that guy,” Jira said.

On the Darrington side, Jira brought the supplies to a friend’s logging company, where folks were organizing search efforts.

They’d tell him: “Jimmy, we need oil. We need diesel. We need shovels.”

“Simple things, like snips to get through fences,” he said. “We took them stuff, every day. All the hard-working guys, they all needed the stuff. Those workers were all on their own doing great things. That built that (temporary service) road in no time.”

AMT let the crews who were going to the slide use company vehicles, too. They’d load up the trucks in the parking lot.

At one point, Jira went to get a chainsaw at Arlington Hardware for the workers. He was short on cash. The owner told him, no problem.

“Arlington Hardware was awesome,” he said.

Folks at AMT knew they needed to do “a lot in a hurry,” said shop scheduler Ed Russell.

He helped get the message out to a Seattle radio station.

After he went on the radio, his phone started to ring every day at 4 a.m. — as people on the East Coast began their morning. People from other states, other countries sent donations, he said.

For a while, Russell was recharging his phone three times a day to keep up with the calls, he said.

The work was humbling. A few folks didn’t bring much — an old shovel, or some candy — but it was still important because it was all they had, he said.

“Some guy just handed me $500 out of his window,” Russell said. “I got so many hugs and handshakes my hands were wore out.”

One woman dropped off a new 42-inch chainsaw worth $1,500. Someone else brought heavy-duty backpacks. Donuts. It went on like that for days.

“It’s overwhelming how many people showed up and why,” Russell said.

AMT maintenance clerk Shelly McGlothern helped keep things organized. Her husband, Dave, rented an excavator to dig. The couple offered their not-yet-opened business, Bad Dog Distillery, for donation storage space.

Since the Youngs’ basement flooded, their son, Coby, 20, has been staying with Jira to be closer to his aviation maintenance classes at Everett Community College.

Jira’s girlfriend, Holly Johnson, approached the community college about possible financial help for Coby Young’s last few months of school.

The college provided support to Young and others affected by the slide, from student emergency funding, a spokesman said.

It felt good to do something to help, Jira said, even just watching searchers drink some cold sodas he’d brought up.

“It was just family and friends helping family and friends,” he said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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