Swathes as big as Los Angeles, some observers say, lie blackened, denuded by an inferno that firefighters’ most heroic attempts failed to thwart. I wondered at the wildlife caught in a raging hell they can neither understand nor escape. I still didn’t get it and turned my attention to reports of increased violence in Israel, the World Cup and the College World Series.

Then a plane carrying flame retardant crashed in the Arizona fire, killing its crew, and I began to recognize the incredible human cost of this conflagration that at last estimate had consumed more than 300,000 acres. And this morning I got an e-mail from an agricultural reporter, Laura Schneberger, whom I’ve met only through the Internet, and she brought the scope of the tragedy closer home.

Laura says that unless you can see the fire, not just pictures on television, but up close, where it devours homes in minutes and forces residents of small towns to flee, carrying only what belongings they can haul out, you can’t understand the horror of it. Towns will disappear; homes people built, as one observer said, “plank by plank, as a labor of love,” will turn to ashes. This is catastrophe.

And people need help.

Laura says folks outside the affected areas can ease some of the burden shouldered by local relief agencies. They need money to help house, feed and clothe people displaced by this fire. She recommends the Arizona Red Cross as a good starting point for donations. The hotline is (602) 336-6681. Also, the Arizona Division of Emergency Management, Fire Information, at (877) 240-9735 or (602) 231-6207 is another good contact to see what’s needed.

Check with theSalvation Army (http://www.salvationarmy.usawest.org/, phone 602-267-4100) also, but they suggest that folks call before sending donations.

Here’s what they know people need: white socks, personal hygiene items, sun screen, lip balm, eye drops, cowhide gloves, goggles, throat lozenges, water, Gatorade, and power bars.

Less obvious needs include: pens for pets (Call the Red Cross for more information at 928-333-2632.).

Wouldn’t have thought of it, but it seems obvious that firefighters need sun block. Folks in the area should drop it and other items off at the Show Low High School Command Center. Show Low is a small Arizona town in imminent danger of incineration. By the time you read this, the town will either be recovering from a near miss or gone.

Folks need trailers to haul horses (up to 150) and somewhere to keep them. They’ll also need rations for both large animals and small pets. They’ll need hay, bedding, and possibly veterinary supplies for large animals. Small pets will need food, bedding and hygiene items, too. Drop-off points for donations include: Phoenix Salvation Army, 2707 E. Van Buren, Phoenix, and any popular outfitters store in Arizona.

You can make donations online. Here are some instructions: The website is http://www.bashas.com/groceries.php. You can shop online and use the lists provided by the Red Cross then follow the directions provided.

Other numbers that might be useful include: shelter information in Mesa and Glendale (602) 336-6681 and highway information (928) 537-7633.

Reports indicate that this fire, plus several more burning across the West, represents one of the worst, if not the worst, natural disasters the region has ever seen. It’s the kind of calamity that folks will need substantial financial aid to surmount. But more immediately, they need help just to survive until they can evaluate their losses and begin rebuilding. If you’re financially able, send what you can. And remember them in whatever prayers you say each day.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com