California wildfires rage
Disaster relief teams deploy
FRESNO, Calif. (BP)—Southern California’s wildfires, which burst to fury over the weekend, have destroyed an estimated 1,300 homes in seven counties thus far -– and prompted the evacuation of 350,000 homes, killed two people and injured several dozen others, including at least 16 firefighters, according to news reports.
Three California Southern Baptist disaster relief feeding teams were called up Monday, Oct. 22, in response to the wildfires which stretch from Santa Barbara to San Diego.
By all estimates, containment of the fires, which have been fueled by fierce winds and high temperatures, remains days away.
Hard-hit San Diego County has lost an estimated 1,000 of the 1,300 homes consumed by the wildfires. More than 15,000 people spent Monday evening, Oct. 22, in shelters, officials reported, although the overall number of evacuees from the county could exceed 500,000.
For North American Mission Board missionary Dan Cookson, his San Diego home is safe for now, but the out-of-control wildfires blackening Southern California came too close for comfort.
"We're fine for now and our home is okay," said Cookson, the day after he, wife Tammy and two children were forced to evacuate their home. They spent Monday night (Oct. 22) in the local Vision San Diego office for the North American Mission Board's Strategic Focus City initiative.
Cookson is a church starting strategist at Vision San Diego, where his wife also works.
"A friend called about 10 p.m. last night to say he was looking at our house and it was still standing," Cookson said.
"We'll try to go back this morning [Oct. 23] to change clothes, take showers and see about the air quality. If it all seems okay, then I guess we'll stay at home. We'll have to see if they will even let us back in or not."
Cookson said he believes his home will survive the fires because it is constructed of stucco and cement roofing tiles. Wood structures with cedar shake roofs are far more vulnerable, he said.
Don Hargis, California Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief coordinator, reported that two of the convention's mobile units were being deployed to the San Diego vicinity while a "fixed kitchen" was being set up in Newhall in north Los Angeles County.
Hargis said the San Diego situation is the "most in need at this point" with as many as 250,000 people having been evacuated from their homes. Cookson said people have been evacuated from as much as 100 square miles in the north and east of the county.
Hargis said the two field kitchens would be stationed at PETCO Park, home of the San Diego Padres. He noted volunteers staffing each unit are expected to prepare as many as 10,000 meals daily for evacuees and police, fire and volunteer workers. Hargis said the field kitchens would be used to prepare meals beginning with dinner Tuesday, Oct. 23.
The fixed kitchen at First Baptist Church in Newhall will prepare as many as 700 meals daily, Hargis reported.
Also activated is one of the CSBC shower units, with six private showers that can accommodate as many as 600 people daily.
Cookson said he and his family were evacuated from their home at 5 a.m. on Oct. 22 and spent the majority of the day between the office of Vision San Diego and First Baptist Church of Mira Mesa. He reported 30 homes in his neighborhood burned Monday morning.
Cookson said "sketchy" amounts of news were available throughout the area. However, he reported hearing all five American Red Cross shelters were full and that the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Qualcomm Stadium, home to the San Diego Chargers, had been opened.
Cookson said he was only positive of one Southern Baptist church, First Baptist in Poway, where flames had been close. Dwight Simpson, director of missions for San Diego Baptist Association, said he was unaware of any Southern Baptist churches that had burned or been damaged due to the fires.
"Our churches are in the area where the fires are burning. It is difficult to pinpoint exact locations because the winds are causing the fires to 'hopscotch' instead of being defined to a particular area," Simpson noted.
Simpson reported communication has been difficult because churches are closed. He added the association office was closed on Monday and Tuesday, but would reopen Wednesday to begin assessing loss and damage to the churches and their families.
"This is an opportunity for believers and churches to be a witness in time of crisis," Cookson said. "This is a time for the church to be a calming influence and witness to the hope we have in Christ Jesus."
Hargis echoed Cookson's statement, saying, "This is an opportunity for California Southern Baptists to show the love of Christ in action. We serve Him by serving others in need."
Simpson added, "As with the 2003 fires, much of our ministry will be after the fires are over when we [Southern Baptists] can help families pick up the pieces and get their lives back in order."
Hargis asked Southern Baptists to pray that disaster relief vehicles and volunteers would arrive safely and that all involved would be protected while in the fire area.
All trained California disaster relief volunteers interested in serving should contact Renee McKinley by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hargis said donations for disaster relief efforts are needed. Online donations can be made at www.csbc.com or donations by check can be sent to CSBC, Disaster Relief, 678 E Shaw Ave, Fresno 93710. Hargis noted 100 percent of the funds received will be used for the disaster.
He noted it cost $80,000 in 2003 to clean 400 home sites destroyed by wildfires. Both Hargis and Cookson agreed this fire could be worse than the 2003 fires which destroyed a total of 3,000 homes.
Hargis also said disaster relief teams are in need of donated or loaned heavy-duty equipment to clean homes after the disaster. He specifically said front-end skid loaders and excavators are needed.
Working with Mickey Caison, director for disaster relief and adult volunteer mobilization for the North American Mission Board, Hargis said plans call for an "incident command center" to be established in the Riverside area, located in the center of the 25 fires which have torched about 270,000 acres between the 130-mile stretch from Malibu south to San Diego, and 70 miles eastward into the California mountains.
North American Mission Board President Geoff Hammond pledged the board’s assistance and asked Southern Baptists to be in prayer.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the residents of California as they endure this tragic fire and the devastation it’s caused,” Hammond said. “Please be in prayer as well for the local churches as they minister and the Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers who are being activated.”
Terry Barone is editor of the California Southern Baptist newsjournal; Mickey Noah is a writer with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.