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As wildfires continue to blaze, leaders ask for prayers

SAN DIEGO (BP)–California Gov. Gray Davis urged Californians to pray for victims and firefighters Oct. 30 as the state’s worst-ever wildfires raged on. He also praised the religious community for their ministries amid the tragedy.

San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy, meanwhile, told Baptist Press that, in handling governmental duties amid tragedy, “I believe God has been with me through this. He has been my major source of strength.”

Wildfires in Southern California have consumed 750,000 acres, claimed at least 20 lives, forced the evacuation of tens of thousands from their homes and destroyed 2,800 houses, according to reports by the Associated Press.

“It’s not over yet,” said San Diego Fire Capt. Gerry Brewster, a member of East Clairmont Southern Baptist Church, after a week of fighting the San Bernardino fires. “There is a high probability we will lose others in this fire,” he said of the death toll.

“I tell people to forget about the material and look at the spiritual side of this,” Brewster said. “There has been tragic loss, but knowing God I know there is a meaning.”

Davis said he was keeping firefighters, especially those who had been recently injured, in his prayers.

One firefighter died and three were seriously injured the day before, all from the Novato Fire Protection District, fighting the blazes in San Diego. Firefighter Steve Rucker, 38, died and Capt. Doug McDonald remained in critical condition Oct. 30 with burns over 28 percent of his body. Shawn Kreps and Barrett Smith were released from the hospital with minor burns, according to the AP.

“Obviously, we need to keep Steve Rucker’s family in our prayers and I hope every Californian will,” Davis said in an interview with the Baptist Press after a news conference Oct. 30 in San Diego. “He [Rucker] died while trying to save a home. I have been praying for Doug McDonald and I hope others will. His doctors told me he will recover.”

A force of 14,000 firefighters continue to fight the fires throughout Southern California, Davis said at the news conference.

“It’s never easy when a firefighter is lost but they are out there doing a phenomenal job,” said Davis, who had toured San Diego areas devastated by the fires. “We will do everything possible to help this family who gave everything to help us fight these blazes.”

Murphy, meanwhile, asked for prayers of families who have lost their homes in the fires.

“Our immediate prayer need is for those families who have lost everything,” the San Diego mayor said in an interview with Baptist Press. “All their belongings, including their pets, have been destroyed.”

Many tragedies have occurred, but at the same time, Murphy, a member of San Carlos United Methodist Church, told Baptist Press, “There has been an outpouring of support from the San Diego faith community. The faith community has helped many victims.”

He noted, “It’s been a miracle to watch different congregations come together — Baptist, Catholics, Jews, Muslims — to help the community.”

Murphy met with 15 different members of the faith community Oct. 29 to begin planning an interfaith service, slated for 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2, at the United Methodist Church in Mission Valley. There were no other details about the service available at the time of the interview.

The San Diego fires are expected to be out by next week, but there are no promises.

“We almost see the end of the fires in San Diego,” said Andrea Tuttle, director for the California Department of Forestry. “By next week we should see the end and start a new phase of damage assessment. But we are never sure what the winds will do.”

She predicted the death toll would rise as fire officials begin to sift through charred areas.

“Unfortunately, we will find more fatalities as we assess the damage,” Tuttle said. “Our prayers and thoughts are with the families.”

Mike Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, described the wildfires as neither a Republican nor Democratic issue.

“On behalf of the president, he asked to make sure we all take care of these victims,” Brown said at the news conference. “I have been to a lot of disasters and am overwhelmed how strongly the community has come together to rebuild.”

Davis told reporters he is working with Gov.-elect Arnold Swartzenegger to help the state receive federal funding to rebuild after the billion-dollar fires.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GOVERNOR’S ASSESSMENT, REMEMBERING FIREMAN’S FAMILY, GOOD FORTUNE, SEEING A HIGHER POWER and MORE SORROWS AHEAD.

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  • Kelli Cottrell