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Church building survives ravages of California’s deadliest wildfire, as death toll mounts

14 November 2018


A building in Paradise, California, burns last week as wildfires ravaged the state. Fifty people have been confirmed dead in the deadliest wildfires California has ever witnessed, including the Camp Fire pictured

A building in Paradise, California, burns last week as wildfires ravaged the state. Fifty people have been confirmed dead in the deadliest wildf...

IN THE town of Paradise, California, little has been left untouched by the “Camp Fire” wildfire which engulfed the town. Thousands of buildings, homes, shops, schools, and restaurants have been destroyed, at least 48 residents have died, and dozens more are still missing in what is California’s deadliest wildfire.

Two buildings that survived the blaze with minimal damage are St Nicholas’s, an Episcopal church, and, across the street, a Lutheran church. The Rector of St Nicholas’s, the Revd Ann Sullivan, managed to escape with her family, along with several members of the church community.

Members of the congregation are being asked, on St Nicholas’s Facebook page, to go online to say that they are safe, or to give information about others.

Paradise was a popular town for retirees, and there are fears that many of the elderly members of the congregation may not have been able to escape from the fire, which started in a forest near by and spread fast. Some of the dead were found in their cars, overcome as they tried to evacuate.

The diocese of northern California is calling for financial donations and gift cards for those who have lost everything in the blaze.

Canon Andrea McMillin, from the diocese, said: “We are grateful for your prayers and concern, reaching across the world, that sustain us in this time of unimaginable loss and devastation. We are deeply grateful that [the Revd] Ann Sullivan, Rector at St Nicholas’s Episcopal Church, in Paradise, California, evacuated safely with her family to Chico, about 13 miles to the west, where she is staying with family.

“We have confirmation that the St Nicholas . . . church buildings still stand, with minimal damage, and we have made contact with the parishioners, some of whom will be gathering in the coming days for prayer and support in local homes in Chico.

“While we know the church is more than a building, we are profoundly grateful that we can offer ministry through the use of our building when the time comes to return. This may be months away, however, given the apparent total loss of the infrastructure in Paradise.”

Many members of the congregation of St Nicholas’s, she said, had reported that their homes were totally destroyed.

More wildfires were still raging in part of California midweek, whipped up by strong winds.

Further south, the Woolsey Fire started near Thousand Oaks, a suburb about 40 miles from Los Angeles, spreading down to Malibu. A further two people are known to have died in this fire.

Thousand Oaks was the scene of a mass shooting last week, when a lone gunman killed 12 people in a bar, the day before the fire started.

President Trump has declared a “major disaster” in the state, after pressure from the Governor of California, Jerry Brown. The President had initially posted a message on Twitter blaming “gross mismanagement of the forests” for the fires. Two days later, he posted another message, saying that those fighting the fires were “amazing and very brave”.

The wildfire season in California traditionally began in summer and ran until early autumn, but experts are now warning that the risk is year-round.

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