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Everyday Hero: Woodland Hills couple serves behind the scenes during fires

By Karissa Neely daily Herald - | Oct 15, 2018
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Rachel Skinner feeds an alpaca as he daughter Adelyn, 5, reacts after getting an animal's saliva on her hands while Adelyn's father, Reed, and brother, Spencer, 16, laugh jokingly Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at their home in Woodland Hills. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Reed and Rachel Skinner pose for a portrait outside their home Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, in Woodland Hills. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Rachel Skinner pushes her daughter, Adelyn, 5, on a swing as her other children, from left, Conner, 12, Mason, 9, Spencer, 16, and Emma, 17, hangout on playground equipment Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at their home in Woodland Hills. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Reed Skinner, holds his son, Bennett, 1, as he jokes with his other son, Conner, 12, on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at their home in Woodland Hills. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Reed and Rachel Skinner pose for a portrait outside their home Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, in Woodland Hills. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Reed Skinner, holds his son, Bennett, 1, as he jokes with his other son, Mason, 9, while he swings Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at their home in Woodland Hills. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Rachel Skinner feeds one of her family's alpacas beside her son, Spencer, 16, and her husband, Reed, holding their son, Bennett, 1, on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at their home in Woodland Hills. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” celebrates these unsung community members and brings to light their quiet contributions.

As wildfire approached the city of Woodland Hills the night of Sept. 13, residents Reed and Rachel Skinner evacuated themselves and their 10 children, who range in age from 21 months to 17 years old. That night, they grabbed pictures, hard drives, some clothes, bedding and a few toys. They took their dogs, opened the cages for their chickens and rabbits, and found a place to board their sheep and alpacas.

But the very next day, the couple was back in their beloved city to help.

“Rachel woke up Friday morning, and couldn’t go back to sleep,” Reed Skinner said of that day.

“We have good friends on the Fire Department here and they asked us to do a little favor here and there, and then more and more from there,” Rachel Skinner added.

“Those were our volunteer firefighters there that first night — not a large group — and they were up there all night. They lined up their trucks and made that their stand,” Reed Skinner continued. “These are our friends who put their lives on the line for our homes, the least we could do was go out and get ice or whatever they needed.”

Those favors turned into all-day gigs for Rachel Skinner throughout the rest of the evacuation time. Every morning, she’d head to the command center at the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building in Woodland Hills, and do whatever needed to be done — from Walmart food and supply runs to paperwork. Reed Skinner was there every day for part of the day, making early morning coffee runs and late-night supply runs around his work hours as an OBGYN in Nephi.

“We just did whatever was needed to help it run smoother,” Reed Skinner said.

Woodland Hills Mayor Wendy Pray said the Skinners are the type of volunteers emergency personnel only hope to have during natural disasters.

“They were here all day, every day the whole time of the fire. They were here every minute of that thing. It was really amazing,” Pray said.

The Skinners were there every time the crews battling the Bald Mountain and Pole Creek fires came off the mountain — ready to load them up with food, drinks, hygiene supplies and any other odds and ends needed. As the Utah County community came together and restaurants volunteered their food services and brought in catered meals for the fire crews, the Skinners were on hand to set it up, run the meals, and clean it all back up.

“They just spent so much time there helping people, helping feed people. It was amazing,” said Craig Northup, Woodland Hills fire chief. “They were able to see things that needed to be done and just do them.”

When the little town of Woodland Hills got the notice residents could return to their homes Sept. 22, the Skinners loaded up their kids, dropped them off at home and then ran back out the door to help direct traffic for their returning neighbors. When flooding threatened the town that next day, they did sandbag duty for about three days straight.

Rachel Skinner, who is also pregnant with the couple’s 11th child, said she was able to help out as the family “house hopped” during the evacuation because of wonderful friends and family who watched her younger children. She credits the way so many others in the community gave their time and efforts to help those affected by the fires, evacuations and flooding.

“People just showed up from all over,” she said of those initial days filling sandbags for the town. “I mean, they had a hard time tracking volunteer hours because so many people kept coming.”

Rachel Skinner said it was a unique experience to be so close to those fighting the fires. She remembers the hopelessness in the faces of the fire crews that first Friday as they came down the mountain. With the winds whipping the fire into a frenzy, sending it 20 miles in one day, the crews thought there was no chance to save the town.

“But then over the next few days, to see the hope. To see the fire sitting just a quarter mile outside the town, just sitting there. To hear them tell us this fire was not behaving like a normal fire,” Rachel Skinner said.

The fire crews fight wildfires all over the nation, but were baffled by the fire’s odd behavior. They were also overwhelmed by the support volunteers, families, children and others gave them.

“We had so many people who were so awesome in donating so many things. Whatever the firefighters asked for we did. Those firefighters said they had never been taken so well care of,” said Beth Wilding, who is over the Woodland Hills emergency medical services, and practically lived at the command center during the fires. “Whatever anyone was able to do in whatever way made a big difference.”

The Skinners were just grateful their neighbors were able to return home.

“That was by far the hardest thing about leaving, was not knowing if our neighbors would be coming back. We love the people here,” Reed Skinner said.

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