Brothers and Sisters,
With a heavy heart we come to yet another fire in our area. Each fire has been worse than the last with the new Camp Fire being reported as impacting nature and life with unprecedented devastation. In response, we trust in God and prepare to walk alongside those most closely affected. I am grateful for the pastoral leadership of DS Blake Busick in response to the needs of our pastors and congregations in Paradise and the surrounding areas, and the work of our Director of Disaster Response Ministry, Sonja Edd-Bennett.
Blake reports that pastors and church members appear to be accounted for and safe but have been through the trauma of fire. While we believe that our church in Paradise is standing, this is still yet to be confirmed. Pastor Bob Chicou and his wife, Pam, however, do understand that their home was completely destroyed in the fire.
Sonya reports that, as you can imagine, the situation remains quite fluid at this point. Agencies are actively engaged in the Relief Phase of disaster response. She is in contact with state agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Southern California branch of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). Here is what she has learned from the Cal Fire and the California Office of Emergency Management, as of 7 a.m. today:
- The fire is at 100,000 acres burned and 20% contained
- There are three known injuries and nine confirmed fatalities
- Structures destroyed: 6,453 residences, 260 commercial (most devastating in California History)
- 15,000 structures are still threatened
- Shelters at: Butte County Fairgrounds; churches in Chico, Yuba City, Orland, and Chester; roughly 1,000 in shelters, with 264 counted outside Thursday night
- 99 schools closed, with Paradise Unified School District offices destroyed
- Some cell towers have been destroyed in area, so initial communication was limited and is now intermittent
- Winds and low humidity over the next several days expected with Fire Weather Watch Saturday through Monday
- The evacuation order for Chico has been removed
Sonja is also in contact with our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). As you know, UMCOR has been a faithful and persevering partner with us as we have faced fires and other disasters in our area. She is assisting me in preparing a bishop’s request for a $10,000 UMCOR grant to provide immediate support to impacted churches and communities.
We encourage everyone to donate financially to UMCOR or our Conference Disaster Fund, as you are able. Drives for clothing, furniture, toys, and other such items are discouraged at this time. One great idea that Sonja lifts up for us is that in place of drives for material things, yard sales be organized, and the proceeds donated to the disaster fund. Look for future emails detailing how else you can help.
I also want to share with you that Bishop Mark W. Holmerud, bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), and I are in conversation about how together we can respond to the destruction in Paradise. This is an opportunity to make real our commitment to live in full communion with one another. He has shared with me that Paradise Lutheran Church has been lost in the fire. The pastor and members of the church have gone to shelters in Chico. We join our hearts in thanking volunteers in Chico and other places who are providing shelter and physical, emotional, and spiritual support for those whose lives have been so violently struck by the fires. My brother, Bishop Mark, and I are praying and discerning together how we will lead us in being the people of God in response to this most recent disaster.
Let us pray for God’s mercy and compassionate care for those suffering because of this fire, and let us be the people of God, the disciples of Jesus Christ in this hour.
Your Sister in Christ,
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño