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Western wildfires have Baptists poised for action

SEELEY LAKE, Mont. (BP) — With wildfires in the western United States having consumed a cumulative area larger than the state of Maryland, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units are preparing for ministry.

Nine western states — California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming — have experienced fires this year that have consumed more than 8 million total acres, 3 million above the annual national average for the past decade, according to The Washington Post.

DR units for the Montana Southern Baptist Convention are poised for action amid what The Post has labeled “the most destructive fire season in the last 20 years” for the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved disaster assistance for three large western Montana fires, the Associated Press reported Sept. 10.

Dan Stewart, DR coordinator for the Montana SBC, said most property loss thus far seems to be fences, out buildings and vacation homes. The convention’s DR teams are prepared to do ash out work for any homes that have been burned, he said.

The Montana convention also may help coordinate local pastors and youth groups to cut trees away from vulnerable homes, take down burned fencing for ranchers and cut trees back from vulnerable fence lines, Stewart told Baptist Press.

Generally, Montanans “don’t ask for help and they don’t look for help,” Stewart said. “And they [wonder], ‘Why are you helping me?’ That gives us an opportunity to tell them” about the love of Christ.

One Montana feeding unit was mobilized to feed evacuated residents at a shelter near the Missoula-area Seeley Lake fire, which started in July. But that unit was called off when residents dispersed before ER crews could reach the shelter, Stewart said.

In Oregon — where fire has seared more than 640,000 acres, according to The Post — DR units from the Northwest Baptist Convention are on standby.

The Eagle Creek fire, which has burned more than 33,000 acres in northern Oregon according to UPI, has chainsaw crews on standby, said Bill Griffith, a regional DR coordinator for the Northwest Convention.

The Chetco Bar fire in southern Oregon may require feeding units for evacuees, Griffith said. That blaze has consumed 180,000 acres, The Post reported.

In California, the Los Angeles-area La Tuna fire threatened 1,400 homes and injured 10 people before firefighters achieved 100 percent containment Sept. 10, according to media reports.