BLACK FOREST, Colo. (BP) — Disaster relief chaplains are at the forefront as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and leaders respond to historic wildfire damage in central Colorado.
“There is an opportunity for chaplains to go back in with homeowners when they return to their properties,” said Fritz Wilson, disaster relief executive director for the North American Mission Board. “This is a direct result of our work with the wildfires in the Fort Collins area last year, and the growing reputation of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) ministry.”
Black Forest, Colo., northeast of Colorado Springs, is at the center of the historic damage where more than 500 structures, mostly homes, have been destroyed or damaged. El Paso County authorities have not ruled out possible criminal charges, as the fires that claimed two lives may have been man-made.
Colorado disaster relief director Dennis Belz has requested assistance from other states, including at least five ash-out teams, additional chaplains, and help with cleanup and chain saw work. Ash-out refers to the removal of ash, dirt and debris from homes that survive a fire.
Recent rains abated the 16,000-acre Black Forest fire; hundreds of firefighters are working to contain blazes across the state.
As SBDR efforts gear up in Colorado, work is winding down in tornado-stricken Oklahoma and Missouri. Sam Porter, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma disaster relief director, said volunteers have responded to a quarter of the homes damaged by tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area.
Chaplains in the Oklahoma response have made 10,665 ministry contacts, Porter said, including 856 Gospel presentations leading to 50 professions of faith. SBDR has completed 1,120 of the 1,279 job requests received in Oklahoma. Mobile kitchen operations closed the weekend of June 15, after preparing more than 165,000 meals.
The NAMB mobile command center that served as SBDR headquarters at First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla., is dispatching to anchor the incident command at First Baptist Church, Black Forest, this week.
Meanwhile SBDR volunteers are responding to flooding in West Virginia and Texas and storm damage in North Carolina. Teams from West Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and both Virginia conventions are expected to deploy to aid flood survivors in Spencer, W.Va., where heavy rains inundated 200 homes. The same storm system caused tornado-like damage in Stanly County, N.C., near Charlotte, where state SBDR volunteers are providing clean up and recovery ministry.
SBDR volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Texas Baptist Men are serving in Eagle Pass where 500 homes were flooded by 17 inches of rain throughout the weekend. Texas volunteers also continue to serve in Moore, Okla. and West, Texas.
Next week a large wave of Hurricane Sandy rebuild volunteers, some 120-strong, will work on homes in the Freeport, N.Y., area. “This is our first big push of the summer,” Wilson said.
Also next week, Wilson and a team of SBDR leaders will be in Puerto Rico conducting SBDR leadership and volunteer training at several locations across the island.
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers and chaplains, and 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 three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit
namb.net/disaster-relief-donations.Donate by phone at 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
Joe Conway is a writer 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).