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Wildfires claim more homes; churches reach out to neighbors

SAN DIEGO (BP)–Two Baptist churches in San Diego County within the raging wildfires’ striking distance stopped Sunday morning services to evacuate and help fire victims.

First Baptist Church of Tierrasanta was saved as the fire skirted around it and First Baptist Church of Mira Mesa saw flames as close as a half-mile away.

“God intervened,” said Wayne Wester, pastor of the Mira Mesa church.

Two dozen families of the Mira Mesa congregation, mostly those living in the Scripps Ranch area that was completely evacuated, were displaced from their homes and were still waiting Oct. 29 to hear whether they still have a place to call home.

“We just don’t know how many have lost their homes yet,” said Wester, a trained chaplain who has been called by the Red Cross to minister at shelters for the past three nights. “Today we’re hoping they let the families back in to look at their neighborhoods.”

The Tierrasanta church held a short prayer service Sunday morning, Oct. 26, after TV crews in their parking lot were told to get out because the flames had jumped over the freeway and were skirting around the facility.

“We put out our sprinklers and had to leave,” said Wayne Eurich, who has served as pastor of the church for the past year. “Our building is only 10 years old and we feel very fortunate God spared it. We are very fortunate that more homes weren’t destroyed.”

Eurich was planning to hold a special prayer meeting Oct. 29 to thank God for His provision and organize efforts to help others in the community.

Between the first and second service, the Mira Mesa church took food planned for a pastor appreciation lunch to the Mira Mesa shelter, which was housing more than 100 fire evacuees.

“It was really neat to see how God provided for their needs,” said Eurich, who has been at the church for six months. “We also sent over tables and chairs and food distributors from our congregation.”

Both churches have been in the path of the Cedar Fire that has burned more than 210,000 acres and destroyed more than 880 homes in eastern San Diego County, according to a report by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as of early Oct. 29.

“So far we haven’t lost any church structures but about 1,200 homes have been lost,” said Dwight Simpson, director of missions for the 150 churches in the San Diego Baptist Association. “A lot of people have been disrupted from their homes.”

Two other fires still burning, the Dulzura Fire in eastern San Diego County and the Paradise Fire in the middle of San Diego County, have destroyed 83,000 acres, according to AP reports.

Simpson sent out an e-mail Oct. 28 asking for association pastors to volunteer as Red Cross chaplains.

“It’s a real mess down here,” Simpson said. “We want to help out in any way we can but most of our efforts will come in a couple of weeks when the fires have stopped and people know what they need. Right now individual churches are helping out in different ways.”

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  • Kelli Cottrell