WILDFIRES in the United States have destroyed church buildings, while other places of worship are providing shelter for residents who have fled their homes as the fires continue to devastate parts of the West Coast.
At least 36 people have died in the fires, which are ravaging parts of California, Oregon, and Washington State, and many others are missing. Dozens of separate fires are continuing to burn out of control. One million acres in Oregon and three million in California are believed to have been consumed by fire.
The Episcopal diocese of San Joaquin’s conference centre had to be evacuated in the face of an advancing fire: staff members had to flee 60 miles to the south. The diocese has issued an urgent call to prayer for those affected by the wildfires.
The diocese’s Canon to the Ordinary, the Revd Anna Carmichael, told the Episcopal News Service at the end of last week: “Our prayers are with our evacuated staff, our congregation members who are waiting and watching for evacuation notice, for our sisters and brothers in California, as well as Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, also battling devastating fires.”
An Assemblies of God church in Blue River, Oregon is one of the churches known to have been destroyed in a blaze. Its leaders were given just one hour for the evacuation. All memebrs of the congregation had been accounted for, but all had lost their homes, the Pastor, Doug Fairrington, said.
The pandemic is heightening the problems for those who are providing shelter to evacuees. The American Red Cross is operating some shelters in gyms and churches, where they require masks, and have to clean and disinfect often, trying to keep evacuees at least two metres apart. Evacuees are tested, and those with Covid symptoms are sent to isolation shelters.
The vice-president of disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross, Brad Kieserman, said: “The last thing we want to have happen is people to remain in the path of a wildfire or hurricane because they think it’s safer to do that than risk a shelter.”
Episcopal Relief and Development is providing food vouchers and emergency relief funds for some of the people worst affected. It has also paid for masks and grocery gift cards in California for those affected by the unhealthy air caused by the fire.
Skies across San Francisco turned orange because of smoke and ash this week. Four US cities currently rank in the top ten worst cities in the world for air quality, owing to the smoke from the fires.
The Bishop of Northern California, the Rt Revd Megan Traquair, said in a video message: “We are walking through a dark valley now, but we know our Good Shepherd walks with us.”
She continued: “I had a chance to speak with some of the families who actually lost a home. One woman who spoke to me, while she expressed her real grief at that loss, she told me something else that was remarkable. She told me that God was and had been and was even now holding her in the palm of her hand, and getting out of that fire demonstrated God’s great love for her.”