Wildfire Devours Homes and Lives in Southern California

Pastor expresses concern for congregants living in area
( [email protected] ) Oct 28, 2003 09:59 AM EST

DEVORE, California – The deadliest wildfires, in more than a decade left at least 14 dead, 1000 homeless, and 10,000 without electricity. As President Bush declared a state of natural disaster, Church leaders declared a state of emergency for ministries located in the three Southern California counties, Oct. 27.

"Virtually our whole association is on fire," director of missions for the Southern Baptist Convention, Paul Wilkerson said, Monday.

Although none of the church buildings caught fire, many of the church families were displaced; some 30-35 families from Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland lost their homes.

"One of our pastors lives right in the Del Rosa area that burned first, and almost every home in his neighborhood was burned except his," Wilkerson said. "His house was saved. Where the church is located -- up in the north part of San Bernardino -- a lot of houses around it were burned but the church was saved. In fact, they were one of the few places that had electricity."

The fires, stretch from the Mexican border and San Diego to Simi Valley, just north of Los Angeles. The four counties declared by President Bush as under “emergent natural disaster” are: Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.

Eleven deaths in San Diego County are attributed to the so-called Cedar Fire, which at 150,000 acres was the largest fire as of Monday afternoon. Three people died in San Bernardino in the so-called Old Fire. According to the latest figures available from fire officials, more than 40,000 people have been evacuated as a result of the Old Fire.

According to Wilkerson, the fire in his area is 40 miles long.

"The problem is that we're having Santa Anta winds," he said. "The winds go down at night ... but in the morning they pick up again."

Workers for the association were preparing to take bottled war to some of the affected areas Oct. 27 and participate in evangelism and counseling but were turned back by police because of the danger, Wilkerson said.

The association has a disaster relief feeding unit -- also known as a mobile kitchen -- and will begin preparing meals for firefighters and displaced families as soon as the Red Cross gives the go-ahead, he said.

"We just purchased a new disaster feeding unit for the association not knowing we were going to use it so quickly," he said. "But they've requested that we be on standby to use our feeding unit. Just pray for the families that have been displaced by the fire," he said. "Pray for the churches as they find ways to minister to the families."

Although more than 8,000 firefighters has been on duty to restrain the fire, officials said less than 20 percent has been contained.