Christian Groups Reinforce Wildfire Ground Aid

( [email protected] ) Oct 26, 2007 12:42 PM EDT

More than half of the wildfires that ravaged Southern California this past week were squelched Thursday evening, leaving room for more attention to be diverted toward reconstructing homes and lives of victims of the massive blaze.

Forces on the ground include Christian relief agencies, many of which were some of the first responders to the massive disaster.

World Vision dispatched an initial truckload of emergency supplies to the area and is coordinating closely with local churches in Southern California to identify unmet needs of vulnerable children and families who do not have access to aid.

"We're in touch with our 80-plus church partners in the affected areas to identify any families with limited means, families left destitute by these fires, or people who may have difficulty accessing other assistance, while remaining sensitive to anyone that may need our support," reported Jo Carcedo, World Vision's area director for Southern California.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army has been providing thousands of meals to both firefighters and evacuees as well as handing out toiletries and packaged foods to the victims. The evangelical organization said it plans to help with long-term recovery and rebuild the homes of the wildfire victims.

The relief arms of several church bodies such as that of the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Church of the Brethren have also coordinated responses.

The Church of the Brethren has sent volunteers to open up child care centers in American Red Cross shelters to help care for children in disaster situations.

Meanwhile, Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) has a team of pastors offering emotional and spiritual care for evacuees. Several of the Lutheran churches in the areas are providing shelter, distributing food and supplies to victims, according to an LDR report.

The ministry noted that none of the LCMS churches have reported damage, though many members’ homes have been destroyed or damage. LCMS World Relief and Human Care made an initial disbursement of $50,000 on Thursday to the Pacific Southwest District Office to be distributed to congregations to assist members.

“Much work lies ahead of us as needs continue to surface in the aftermath of what is being called one of the worst fire disasters in California history,” said the Rev. Carlos Hernandez of LCMS World Relief and Human Care.

The cost of destroyed homes by wildfires is estimated to top $1 billion in San Diego County alone, an emergency official said.

Twenty-three fires scorched 472,478 acres (738 square miles) or an area roughly three-quarters of the size of Rhode Island, according to CNN. The wildfires are said to be the largest U.S. disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. At one point some 1 million people were evacuated.

As of Thursday, the number of deaths directly due to the fires is seven. In addition, seven other deaths are considered fire-related with victims dying during evacuation or after being evacuated.

Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox of America has offered his prayers for the victims of the California wildfires. He noted that Greek Americans know firsthand the “destructive effect” of fires with Greece recently experiencing a similar wildfire disaster. The archbishop offered his “steadfast prayers” and “loving support” to all the residents of California on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Community.

United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the Los Angeles area meanwhile urged churches around the nation to “participate and make a real difference."

"First, I ask that everyone be in prayer,” Swenson stated. “Pray for the firefighters, pray for those who lost homes and businesses, pray for the evacuees, pray for the animals that have been displaced, pray for those whose loved ones are in harm's way, and pray for the leaders who are working on fighting the fires and recovery efforts."

Secondly, she said the best tool of direct relief is money.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has sent $10,000 to the California-Pacific Annual (regional) conference for use in the relief and recovery process.

UMCOR chief executive Sam Dixon explained, however, that more donations were needed because recent emergencies have depleted the funds the organization uses to provide relief and support in disasters such as the Southern California wildfires.

“As always UMCOR offers its prayers and support to those in need," said Dixon. "We ask for your generous donations to the domestic disaster response advance ….”