PECOS, N.M. (BP)–A firestorm swept through the town of Los Alamos May 11, burning at least 100 homes and sending more than 13,000 residents fleeing from their homes.
More than 200 evacuees from the Los Alamos area were staying at the LifeWay conference center, Glorieta, and the doors are open to others needing shelter and meals at the Southern Baptist facility.
Billie Koller, administration and support manager, said American Red Cross officials had called the conference center to say they would be directing more evacuees there because no more rooms were available in Santa Fe.
Koller said they expected the number of guests could swell to as many as 1,000.
“We had no conferences today and tomorrow (May 11 and 12), so we can accommodate them. We have contacted several local pastors who have agreed to provide counseling services if needed,” she said. “Also we will have a nightly chapel service for those who choose to attend.”
Koller said the conference center, operated by LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC, is allowing people to bring pets and other animals that were part of the evacuation.
“We have opened up our horse stables for those bringing larger animals,” she said.
Baptists in Roswell, N.M., meanwhile, are gathering supplies for the evacuees, to be delivered at Glorieta May 12.
The first Los Alamos residents at the conference center, Koller said, had been attending a conference there and had stayed over as their city was evacuated on May 10.
A piano tuner from Los Alamos, Charles “Tex” Felts, who annually spends the month of May at Glorieta preparing pianos for use during summer conferences, believed he saw the remains of his home on the news, though he had not received any official word that his was one of more than 100 homes destroyed Wednesday night when fire swept through part of the town.
The fire had been set by the National Park Service a week earlier to clear brush but quickly flared out of control, racing through stands of pine trees as it grew to some 18,000 acres, authorities said.
At the Los Alamos National Laboratory, flames singed a research building, but it did not ignite. Explosives and radioactive material were protected in fireproof facilities, lab officials told the Associated Press.
David Sims, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Los Alamos, told Baptist Press their facilities escaped the brunt of the firestorm. Most of the fire damage happened on the east side of Diamond Drive, a main thoroughfare. The church is located on the west side of the roadway.
While the pastor’s home and the church were spared, Sims said he was afraid that many church members lost their homes to the raging blaze.
Sims and his family evacuated to Albuquerque. “I don’t know what God’s purpose is,” Sims said. “But his purposes are not going to be stopped by any man.”
Residents in Los Alamos were originally evacuated to neighboring White Rock. However, at 1 a.m. May 11, authorities ordered residents to evacuate that town as well.
Sims commended the staff of the White Rock Baptist Church for opening their church to the community. “They did a super job,” Sims said, referring to senior pastor Chuck McCullough and associate pastor Dave Fabry. “They did an outstanding job of helping people and calming people down.”
Prior to the evacuation, the church turned Sunday school rooms into bedrooms for the Los Alamos evacuees. They also prepared numerous meals and used the worship center as a Red Cross command post.
Fabry’s home was in an area that was completely burned.
Walt Gragert, pastor of First Baptist Church of Espanola, told Baptist Press several Japanese workers were using their church as an evacuation center, but he wasn’t sure how long the facility would remain open.
“It’s pretty bad here with the smoke,” Gragert said. “The smoke is so thick that it’s causing our eyes to swell. We were ready to take more evacuees, but with the fire moving in our direction they canceled those plans.”
Don Cass, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s evangelism director, said Southern Baptists have begun to mobilize disaster relief teams and the teams will be dispatched pending authorization from the American Red Cross.
Two teams from Texas and one team from Georgia are already en route, Cass said.
Mickey Caison, the SBC’s disaster relief coordinator, said churches or individuals wanting to assist families burned out by the fires should contact the Red Cross.
Compiled by Todd Starnes, with reporting by John Loudat & Linda Lawson.