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‘Devastating’ wildfires spur DR teams to action

LAVERNE, Okla. (BP) — Wildfires from Colorado to Florida have burned more than 1 million acres since March 6, killed at least seven people and led to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief activity in four states.

In the Texas panhandle, five deaths have been reported and 325,000 acres burned, CNN reported, while Oklahoma and Kansas each have seen one death and 400,000 acres scorched. Colorado saw 30,000 acres burned, with an additional 6,000 acres ablaze in southern Florida.

Baptist state conventions in Oklahoma and Kansas-Nebraska are engaged in active DR ministry while volunteers in Texas and Colorado are preparing to deploy if necessary.

Sam Porter, DR director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, told Baptist Press the blaze in his state is “probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever seen as far as endangering people and livestock because the winds were 60-70 miles per hour with about 10 percent or less humidity. It was just devastating.”

Dry conditions and strong winds increased the risk of fire in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the Associated Press reported. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback both have declared disaster emergencies.

Nearly 6 million people nationwide live in areas “at risk of critical wildfire conditions,” AP reported today (March 8), including Tulsa, Okla.; Oklahoma City; and Kansas City. Thousands of people have been evacuated and dozens of homes destroyed, according to media reports.

Florida fires forced state officials to close a 25-mile segment of Interstate 75 near Naples and evacuate some residents of Naples-area Collier County, Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel reported.

The BGCO deployed a quick-response feeding unit March 7 to serve first responders in northwest Oklahoma, Porter said. After the fire is contained, “one of the biggest unmet needs” anticipated is workers to rebuild hundreds of miles of fence that have been burned on farms and ranches.

Porter urged local churches to consider taking fence-rebuilding mission trips. He added that areas affected by the fires across Middle America are experiencing a “double dose of disaster” because they were hit by a severe ice storm in January.

In Kansas, DR volunteers have been assisting around the clock with meal distribution in coordination with the Red Cross and Salvation Army, said Frank McCrary, DR director for the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. Additional volunteers have been helping the Red Cross set up shelters since March 6.

Kansas-Nebraska DR teams may do ash-out work after fires are contained to help homeowners clean up and recover valuables.

Though no Kansas-Nebraska Baptist churches appear to be in immediate danger from the fires, First Baptist Church in Hutchinson, Kan., “may be threatened” if the blaze continues its path toward Hutchinson, McCrary told BP.

In Texas, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention DR units are on alert, the SBTC told BP. A Texas Baptist Men-affiliated team in Amarillo is on standby to perform ash-out work, said James Greer, director of missions for the Top O’ Texas Baptist Association in Pampa.

Colorado Baptist General Convention ash-out teams are on alert for possible deployment in the northeastern portion of the state, CBGC DR director Dennis Belz said.