LA CUEVA, N.M. (BP)–New Mexico’s largest forest fire ever broke out early in the afternoon of Sunday, June 26, near Los Alamos. By that evening, local New Mexico Baptist disaster relief volunteers were feeding the volunteer firefighters of La Cueva, N.M., who were battling the blaze.
Before the blaze was contained a week later, Southern Baptist volunteers had mobilized to help the Red Cross and Albuquerque Emergency Management Office as well.
Eric Larson, pastor of Jemez Mountain Baptist Church in La Cueva, and his wife Debi promptly began feeding the firefighters June 26 from the base they had set up at the church, which was also equipped to serve as a shelter. Four people stayed there that first night after the blaze ignited. New Mexico Baptists’ disaster response coordinator Ira Shelton authorized NMBDR (New Mexico Baptists’ Disaster Relief) to come alongside and help that evening, shortly after Daniel Clymer, pastor of nearby Jemez Valley Baptist Church, contacted NMBDR requesting food support.
By the following day, disaster response workers were preparing 40 meals each mealtime and Jean Conley, who works on the relief organization’s command team, was calling up trained volunteers to help.
The Baptist Convention of New Mexico, through the generosity of New Mexico Baptists, was able to help Jemez Mountain Baptist Church with food, which was delivered on Monday by Cricket Pairett, ministry assistant on the BCNM’s missions mobilization team.
Pairett also told Red Cross officials that New Mexico Baptists were ready to serve in any way needed, and the Red Cross promptly put the feeding unit of Pecos Valley Baptist Association to work at the Cities of Gold Casino, which was serving as a Red Cross shelter.
The association’s shower unit was used later in the week to support the disaster response team, which was made up of volunteers from Artesia, Farmington, High Rolls, Las Cruces, Quemado, Rio Rancho and Ruidoso.
Leading the ministry were two pastors, Leo Pennington of Midway Baptist Church near Dexter and Joe O’Neal of Mountain Vista Church in Farmington.
The feeding operation at Jemez Mountain Baptist Church had been closed June 28, “but the church was open as a shelter and was providing prayer support to evacuees,” Pairett reported.
That same day, an NMBDR disaster response command office was opened at the Baptist building in Albuquerque in order to stay on top of the growing list of needs, which multiplied throughout the week, with fires breaking out in other locations across the state, including near Cloudcroft.
Mountain Valley Baptist Association’s feeding unit was deployed to First Baptist Church in Cloudcroft “in the event that we need to get operational to support the Red Cross shelter at Cloudcroft High School,” Pairett said on Thursday. A team of volunteers from southern New Mexico was on alert to staff the unit if the need arose.
As the end of one long, scary week approached, New Mexico Baptist disaster relief was working with the Albuquerque Emergency Management Office “to pre-plan in case there is a wildfire in the Albuquerque area this weekend,” Pairett said. Several trained volunteers in the metro area also were contacted, so NMBDR would be able to immediately mobilize a team if needed.
Fortunately, that particular need never materialized, and weary Los Alamos residents returned to their homes on Sunday, July 3, seven days after they were forced to leave. The Pecos Valley unit headed back to their own home base in Artesia.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the five dozen families whose homes were destroyed by the fire. New Mexico’s Baptist disaster response office has already offered to help them once the fires in their respective regions are extinguished.
One former Los Alamos evacuee suggested a ministry project that would involve cleaning furniture, carpet and drapes in homes in affected areas across the state.
“The clean-up [from] these fires in New Mexico could be staggering and a difficult strain on lower-income areas,” explained Paul Cunningham, pastor of First Baptist Church in Los Alamos.
John Loudat is editor of the Baptist New Mexican (www.bcnm.com), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.