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California presbyteries keep tabs on raging wildfires

Smoke forces church camp to close summer program

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Wildfires have destroyed hundreds of homes and scorched thousands of acres in California this year. (Photo by FEMA / Jana Baldwin)

Wildfires have destroyed hundreds of homes and scorched thousands of acres in California this year. (Photo by FEMA / Jana Baldwin)

LOUISVILLE — The wildfires raging in parts of California are being described by some state officials as among the most destructive in the state’s history.  More than 100,000 acres have been charred by the flames, including over 1,300 structures, mostly homes.

At least six people are known to have died and nearly 20 were reported missing since the fires broke out. Firefighters have been working around the clock to try and contain the separate blazes but are being hampered by hot, dry and windy conditions.

The Presbyteries of the Redwoods, Sacramento, Stockton and San Joaquin are dealing with the brunt of the fires.

“Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has been in touch with the four presbyteries impacted by the recent fires that have destroyed buildings, homes and disrupted the air quality,” said the Rev. Dr. Jim Kirk, PDA’s associate for national disaster response. “We will continue to be in touch with presbytery leadership and monitor their needs for as long as necessary.”

Federal authorities report as many as 16 separate fires with special emphasis on two fires, one near Redding and the Ferguson fire in the Sierra National Forest.

“The huge Ferguson fire is near Yosemite National Park and most of the park has been closed for several weeks because of both fire and smoke,” said the Rev. Les Hyder, stated clerk and executive presbyter for the Presbytery of San Joaquin. “We have quite a few displaced people. The Red Cross has set up shelters in Mariposa and Oakhurst.  We’re helping with shelters as best we can.”

Thousands of people have been forced from their homes as the flames continue to spread.

“We were fortunate to get a $7,500 grant from PDA for fire relief for Ferguson, which will be used to assist those displaced,” said Hyder. “None of our churches are in danger of burning, but a lot of houses in the foothills of California are impacted.”

The presbytery’s Calvin Crest Camp near Oakhurst has been forced to close because of the fire. Hyder says there has been no damage, but the deteriorating air quality forced them to close down the summer camp program.

“We were able to get a special project grant from PDA for $5,000 to assist our staff who were being laid off early from the camp. This is the second year in a row fire has caused problems for Calvin Crest. Last year, the fire scorched 200 out of the camp’s 300 acres,” said Hyder. “People who had planned to go to summer camp are disappointed as well as summer staff who had to go home early. This will help make up some of their lost wages.”

The Ferguson fire, which began on July 13, has consumed nearly 69,000 acres and is 39 percent contained according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“We are grateful to PDA for its quick response and generosity. We will be able to help a lot of people in the area,” said Hyder. “PDA has helped us now three years in a row, two years at the camp and another year in the Bakersfield area.”

As many as 4,000 firefighters are fighting the so-called Carr fire in northern California near Redding.  Authorities say as the fire has burned an area four times the size of San Francisco. A spokesperson for the Presbytery of Sacramento says they’ve been monitoring the fires and are reaching out to pastors but are not aware of any damage to churches.

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Those interested in making contributions to assist those impacted by the wildfires can click here.

If you prefer to mail a check (please write DR000165 on the memo line), you may send it to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700

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