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Colo. fires, Fla. floods stir DR preparations

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — As monster wildfires rage in Colorado and other Western states while Hurricane Debby leaves massive flooding behind in north Florida, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders are busy mapping responses in both parts of the country.

“We’re consulting with the state disaster relief leaders and developing a plan for how we can help,” said Mickey Caison, SBDR team leader for the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga. “It will be a few days in Colorado before our DR folks will have access to the fire-affected areas. Once they gain access, they will determine how much and what kind of help they will need. Once the fires are out, we will support a cleanup operation.”

But according to news reports, the Waldo Canyon Fire — still fueled by gusting winds — is far from contained and has forced some 35,000 people from their homes in the 650,000-person Colorado Springs metro area. Only three miles from the Colorado Springs city limits, the fires also threatening the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The Waldo Canyon fire — which has destroyed at least 300 homes — is only one of a dozen wildfires charring Colorado land. Tens of thousands of Coloradans remain homeless, forced by the fast-moving fires to evacuate their homes, yet unsure whether their homes will be there when they return.

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called the wildfire a “monster” and said its flames were “not even remotely close to being contained.” The fire has scorched more than 15,000 acres around the base of famed Pikes Peak.

Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said his state’s DR team is on standby to stage a major feeding response in the Colorado Springs area once the fires are out and entry is possible.

“Our state DR leaders are building a team now so we can roll quickly when and if we get the call,” Porter said. “It would require a major feeding unit and 40 volunteers to run it.” Oklahoma Baptists have also been operating a laundry unit in Fort Collins but will move it to Colorado Springs when a new site is determined.

Back in Florida, where historic flooding resulted from Hurricane Debby, Fritz Wilson, DR director for the state convention, said a response plan is being developed as the ground water from torrential rain — as much as 25 inches in some areas — begins to recede.

“We will concentrate on the Live Oak area,” Wilson said, adding that in his 16 years in Florida, he’s never seen Live Oak — county seat for Suwannee County with about 7,000 people — flood. “It got 20 inches of rain in a 24-36 hour period. It’ll be another week before the water is out because the area is flat and the water will have to go back down through the water table.”

Wilson said some 150-250 homes in Live Oak were affected by the flooding, requiring at least 40-50 mud-out jobs by Florida DR volunteers. Wilson said the Florida DR will request one of NAMB’s new flood response trailers, which includes sprayers and pressure washers for doing mud-out.

With Florida DR’s Eddie Blackmon as the area commander, First Baptist Church in Live Oak will be the base of operations for the disaster relief teams. Some feeding also will be done, using the church’s own kitchen.

From NAMB’s disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., Caison, Wilson and NAMB staff members coordinate and manage Southern Baptist Disaster Relief responses to major disasters throughout North America via a partnership among NAMB and the SBC’s 42 state conventions, most of which run their own state disaster relief programs with state convention-owned assets.

Total SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the largest mobilizers of trained, credentialed disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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