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DR volunteers needed for Okla. cleanup
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Oklahoma Disaster Relief Director Sam Porter prays with a family who lost their home near Mannford, Okla.  Photo by Bob Nigh.
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Burned out homes and businesses dot the landscape in Creek County and other areas of Oklahoma after wildfires scorched the Sooner State the first weekend in August.  Photo by Bob Nigh.
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Posted on Aug 10, 2012 | by Mickey Noah

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (BP) - The Oklahoma state convention needs up to 150 volunteers for "ash-out" work after wildfires charred 110,000 acres and destroyed 380 homes the past week across the state.

Sam Porter, disaster relief director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, said Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are needed to respond to damages in four parts of the state.

"We need DR help from state conventions across the country," Porter said. "The work will take three weeks. We need seven teams of 8-10 people in the Mannford area (near Tulsa), and another five teams to work in the Noble area near Norman."

The wildfires, some of which are believed to have been caused by arson, were fueled by several days of 110-degree heat, extremely low humidity and high winds.

"Last Friday, the day the fires started, the temperature was 113 degrees," said Porter. "With the heat, drought, low humidity and winds, it was the perfect firestorm. Even green trees were burning."

Porter and volunteers have received more than 100 requests for help from families, most of whom do not have insurance, and may field requests from up to 200 more.

"It's just overwhelming," Porter said, adding that many victims were low-income and elderly people in rural areas.

"Many of these folks couldn't afford homeowner's insurance; it was either food or their medicine," he said. "Now, they may have a $100,000 pile of ashes."

SBDR volunteers are desperately needed for "ash-out" work, which involves scraping off what's left of charred foundations or slabs, cleaning scorched lots and clearing debris.

"We want as many volunteers as we can get," said Porter, "trained if possible. But even if they haven't done ash-out, it won't take long for us to train them. If the team doesn't have an ash-out trailer, we will just need them to bring basic things like wheelbarrows, rakes and scoop shovels. Workers will need to bring work clothes, heavy boots and gloves, goggles and dust masks. It would also be great if a DR team has a Bobcat® tractor with claws for picking up the debris."

Oklahoma's command post will be based at First Baptist Church in Mannford, Okla., just west of Tulsa, where some 80,000 acres were scorched by the wildfires.

At Oklahoma's request, the North American Mission Board deployed its command post, already in operation at Twelve Corners Baptist Church near Norman. Affected by separate wildfires were Luther, east of Oklahoma City, and Glencoe, near Stillwater.

"We expect our volunteers to come in for just one week at a time," Porter said. "We can house as many people who want to come, up to 200 a night, in various churches."

Many Oklahoma DR volunteers had to be recalled from Colorado, where they had been responding to wildfires in that state since July. Colorado crews will be replenished by volunteers from Texas Baptist Men and the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas.

Porter plans on completing all ash-out work in Oklahoma by Aug. 31. It takes a full day for a team to "ash-out" a house, he said. Fritz Wilson, NAMB's executive DR director, said the widespread need for DR volunteers demonstrates the necessity of NAMB's new command center and DR equipment.

"It benefits both the emerging state conventions and the mainline states," Wilson said.

In addition to wildfires, Wilson said mid-August remains the peak of the hurricane season, which doesn't end until Nov. 30.

Southern Baptists who want to support the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's Oklahoma Wildfire Relief fund can visit www.bgco.org and click on the disaster relief button.

From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters in partnership with the 42 Southern Baptist state conventions, most of which also have state-based DR programs.

SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, showers, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the largest mobilizers of trained, credentialed DR volunteers in the United States.
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Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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