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Calif. wildfires: Chaplains become first phase of DR

REDDING, Calif. (BP) — California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplaincy teams have begun providing spiritual and emotional counseling to survivors of Northern California’s Carr fire, which started on July 23 and rapidly grew over the weekend to consume more than 98,000 acres.

Mike Bivins, director of California’s SBDR efforts who has been on site visiting shelters, reported that between 800 and 1,000 survivors have been in and out of shelters in the Redding area.

“As of [Monday morning, July 30], no evacuation orders have been lifted,” Bivins said. “We are anticipating that shelters will remain for three-plus days.”

According to reports on Monday morning, the Carr fire has destroyed over 720 homes along with 240 other structures. The fires are only at 20 percent containment, and officials could not yet predict when firefighters could expect to reach full containment.

Bivins said California SBDR teams will deploy a laundry unit today and have engaged local churches to help with laundry and showers for those in their communities. Southern Baptist volunteers and churches also have been able to provide pet care for survivors whose shelters do not allow pets.

“For us, one of the big things is continuing to partner with the local church to provide assistance and help them,” Bivins said. “In some cases, it’s about providing for the local church and enabling them to minister rather than rolling in and taking control.”

California SBDR is on standby with the American Red Cross to help with feeding if they are needed. They are also prepared to provide ash-out services for homeowners whenever asked. In mid-July, California SBDR teams completed ash-out work on nine mobile homes that burned during the West fire in San Diego county.

“Mike really has done an outstanding job,” said Sam Porter, national executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief compassion ministry. “His strength is in men’s ministry, in strengthening their grip on Christianity and how it affects their lives as men. As a result, he has a great chaplaincy team.”

Heavy rains dampen SBDR response in Colorado

After fires burned more than 100,000 acres in southern Colorado, heavy rains have led to flooding and mudslides. The damage has rendered much of the area around La Veta unsafe, forcing SBDR teams to shift their response to Cañon City.

“We’ve had some very heavy rains on the mountain that we were working on,” said Dennis Belz, Colorado Baptists’ state DR director. “The mountain is very unsafe. The homeowners have had to move out. Many homes that did not get burned have been affected by the flooding.”

SBDR teams from Texas, Kentucky and Louisiana helped to clean up the foundations of 15 homes that had burned down, but the mudslides essentially covered up their work.

Before the rains came, SBDR teams were able to help residents recover priceless heirlooms, including a Vietnam veteran’s dog tags as well as family pictures dating from as early as the 1800s that managed to survive the fires despite having been stored in a cardboard box.

“There are some very, very sad people out here,” Belz said. “They’re not sure if they’re going to be able to do anything on the mountain yet or not.” Geologists will be testing the mountain near La Veta to determine the viability of the area.

Belz, in the 32nd day of Colorado Baptists’ response to the disasters, deployed teams to remove mud from homes affected by flooding in Cañon City. He also will travel to the northern part of Colorado to assess damage done by tornados that touched down near Byers.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is among the three largest providers of disaster relief assistance in the United States. Southern Baptist churches, associations and state conventions all partner to mobilize volunteers, resources and equipment to provide services. The North American Mission Board provides national coordination and assistance in larger, multi-state responses and mobilizes volunteers through its Send Relief ministry.