Presbyterian Disaster Assistance responds to fires in Colorado, Utah and southern California


Residents evacuated, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — More than a dozen wildfires have been burning across Colorado and parts of Utah and California in recent weeks, leaving a path of destruction that includes nearly 300 homes and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that firefighters appear to have gained the upper hand in most of the fires.

“The past few weeks have been very impactful for Presbyterian communities dealing with wildfires,” said Jim Kirk, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance associate for national disaster response. “PDA responded by deploying teams and providing initial assistance grants. We will continue to be in touch with presbytery leadership as we move from disaster response to recovery.”

The causes for the fires have ranged from lightning to tracer ammunition often used to illuminate the path of fired bullets. Authorities caution that the fires could reignite with drier, warmer weather.

“At the request of Colorado VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), PDA deployed two national volunteers to work with the Disaster Assistance Center (DAC) about the Spring Creek fire to provide spiritual care to survivors,” said Kirk. “As far as I am aware, this is the first time we have received this kind of a request from a state VOAD.”

Authorities in Santa Barbara, California, are hoping the wildfires in the area will be contained by midweek.

“Fires are 80 percent contained, but apparently the remaining 20 percent, are not heading toward houses anymore. There is no imminent danger to other structures right now, but that could always change,” said Suzanne Malloy, disaster coordinator for the Presbytery of Santa Barbara. “I looked at the latest reports and saw that 13 houses were completely destroyed, three houses suffered major damage and there were several other buildings like pool houses that were burned.”

An estimated 2,500 people were initially evacuated because of the fast-moving flames on Friday evening, but most have been allowed back in their homes. Malloy says St. Andrews and Goleta Presbyterian churches both saw families evacuated because of the fires. So far, there are no reports of major property losses in the congregations.

“The wildfires are becoming more and more of a problem here. We’ve seen fire after fire,” Malloy said. “The good news is the county is getting better at responding to them and organizations are mobilizing quickly.”

Last December, the so-called Thomas fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures. Mudslides in the same area a month later destroyed more than 100 homes.

In San Bernardino, authorities say a 1,100-acre fire has forced the evacuation of hundreds. There has been no estimate as to when this fire may be brought under control.

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

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is able to respond quickly to emergencies because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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