Church Continues to Supply Aid in Western Wildfires
By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events, with contributions from Peggy Kinnaird, Church News contributor, and Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
As wildfires continue to plague communities throughout the western United States, Church Welfare Services is working closely with the American Red Cross and other local organizations to provide relief to those affected by the fires.
During June alone, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming experienced more than 800 wildfires, which burned more than 2 million acres of land.
LDS Humanitarian Services reported all members and missionaries are safe, and no Church meetinghouses have sustained damages. However, several LDS families have lost their homes to fires in various areas.
On June 29 the Church issued a statement calling for prayers on behalf of those affected by the wildfires.
“We are mindful of those in Utah and neighboring states who have been impacted by wildfires,” it reads. “We encourage individuals, families, and congregations to pray for the safety of the firefighters, protection of lives and homes, and favorable weather conditions to help control the many wildfires currently burning.”
Since mid-June Church welfare workers have been working with state and local officials to monitor the status of fires and evacuees in several states, including Colorado, Idaho, and Utah, where dozens of wildfires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land.
In central Utah, the Wood Hollow fire, which started on June 26 in Sanpete County, has burned nearly 50,000 acres, destroyed 52 homes, and left one man dead. Thousands of residents have been evacuated.
Just to the east, Carbon County’s Seeley Fire has burned another 47,578 acres.
Firefighters have battled several other large fires throughout Utah.
In Washington County, about 2,000 acres burned near New Harmony, destroying five homes, two of which were owned by members. Cedar City Utah Stake President Dale S. Orton was impressed at how local members and the community came together to support one another. He reported an outpouring offers of money, heavy equipment, bedding, and cleanup help, and commented on seeing a knitting together of the old-timers and the new arrivals as they’ve worked together.
In Colorado, firefighters and relief services are spread thin between seven fires ranging in size from 1,145 acres to 87,284 acres.
The Waldo Canyon Fire—the most destructive in Colorado history—was officially pronounced 100 percent contained on Tuesday. It began on June 23, three miles (5 km) west of Colorado Springs. Three days later it exploded eastward toward the city, engulfing several neighborhoods and eventually consuming 346 homes. Some 32,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes as a result of the fire.
Kevin Woodward, president of the Colorado Springs Colorado North Stake, spoke with the Church News on the evacuation of more than 100 families in his stake: On June 26, he sent a list evacuating families to the coordinating centers—set up in nearby meetinghouses—to offer shelter. Of the 161 LDS families evacuated, 75 to 80 percent stayed in members’ homes in the Colorado Springs Stake or within other stakes.
Colorado Springs Colorado Stake President Mark L. McConkie reported six LDS homes destroyed. Members of the stake’s various units are developing service project plans, which include several other stakes and focus on cleanup and deforestation.
“The members had a real showing of love and concern for one another,” President McConkie said in an interview with Church News. Many of the evacuated members had already made arrangements for housing with friends or relatives and the concern was mostly for the elderly, disadvantaged, and the full-time missionaries, he said. “Overall, it was a pretty sound transition.”
In Idaho, winds have fanned several fires into even bigger blazes. A wildfire in the Boise National Forest was threatening some 100 homes on Wednesday, July 11, and lightning sparked several new fires across the state.
However, federal officials expected full containment of the Kinyon Road Fire, near Twin Falls, on Wednesday. Several other fires are also burning throughout the state.
The Charlotte fire, which ignited June 28 near Pocatello, Idaho, burned just over 1,000 acres and claimed 66 homes—24 of which were member homes.
Bishop Efrain Velasquez of the Mink Creek Ward lost his home, as did the Young Men’s President and Ward Mission Leader and 18 other ward members. Other wards of the stake came together to provide meals for members of the Mink Creek Ward.
Michael and Jessica Malcolm lost their home to the flames, saving a few family treasures—photos, journals, and their pet Labrador—before the fire took everything else. Church News reported that although they have temporary housing and are still dealing with insurance and providing for their four children, they have faith.
“This fire will bring new life,” Brother Malcolm said. “It’s not what we wanted. We have lost a house, but we have not lost our home. Our family is our home, and we have our kids with us.”
Deseret Industries is helping with clothing distribution to help those who lost everything. The Red Cross is also offering assistance in the area.
Pocatello Idaho Stake President Kenneth W. Stucki has organized July 14 as a major Helping Hands service and cleanup day and has requested cleaning materials, chainsaws, and other materials to assist in the effort. Offers of help have poured in from surrounding stakes.
More up-to-date information on wildfires in each state may be found at inciweb.org.