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12-10-14 Northern California Adventists Help Communities Affected by Fires
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by Julie Lorenz

 
 
More than 50 cats and dogs find shelter at the Camino church during the King Fire. (Elaine Larsen)  
In September, two terrible fires ravaged parts of Northern California — the King Fire in El Dorado County and the Boles Fire in Siskiyou County. In each of these areas, local Adventists stepped up to the challenge of helping their neighbors and their community in practical ways.

Camino Church
On Sunday, Sept. 14, less than 24 hours after the King Fire started, the head of the Sacramento-area Red Cross telephoned Camino church Pastor Craig Klatt and asked to use his church as an evacuation shelter. (Several years before, the Camino church had agreed to be available in case of emergency.) The official told Klatt that the current Red Cross shelter was in danger from the fire and they needed to move — immediately. “Within an hour, we were invaded by trucks loaded with all of the supplies needed to totally operate a small 'town,'” said Klatt.

For the next two weeks, the Red Cross provided shelter for dozens of people, including some with special needs, such as those with breathing problems or small children. They also served meals to 100 people at a time — those staying at the church and others who were lodging nearby with friends. About 50 dogs and cats were cared for in the church courtyard until the smoke got so heavy that they had to be moved elsewhere. When evacuees were allowed to go home, they were given food to help them during the first few days.

Camino church members assisted the Red Cross by working on building maintenance and helping in the kitchen. They also reached out to the guests. “We watched for people who were having a hard time and tried to bring encouragement to those who continued to live with uncertainty,” said Klatt.

Local fire, police and government officials used the church for morning and evening community briefings — attended by evacuees, other community members and the media. At the end of the first meeting when Klatt was introduced, someone in the back shouted, “Pray for us!” The incident commander told Klatt, “Go ahead,” and he was able to pray for everyone involved in the fire.

After that first meeting, a sheriff’s department representative expressed his surprise at the civility and calm displayed by the attendees — despite their stress — which he credited to people’s respect for the church. “He told me they just might have to hold all future briefing meetings in churches," said Klatt.

By the time the Red Cross shut down its operations at the facility on Sept. 26, church members had learned that their immediate community had been spared — including the homes of those who had taken shelter at the church.

The Red Cross, the evacuees and many in the Camino community expressed gratitude to the church for its role in assisting people during a very trying time.

Shortly after the fire, Klatt attended an El Dorado County Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “They took the opportunity to express their deep gratitude for the way that our church stepped up to help meet the challenge,” said Klatt. “One of the board members told me: ‘I want to thank you and your church for representing the other churches and God so well in our community.’"

Yreka Church
 
Jeff Evans, Dean Stiles, Steve Nelson, Richard Ray, Wayne Zufelt and Bob Prunty make frames for the sifting boxes to be given to victims of the Boles Fire. (Enoch Brownell)  
The Boles Fire — which began on Sept. 15 and was contained on Sept. 20 — destroyed about 150 residences. When those who had lost their homes were allowed to visit their properties for the first time, they were accompanied by chaplains and counselors. One of them was Yreka church Pastor Enoch Brownell, who serves as a volunteer chaplain for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office. There wasn’t much Brownell and the other chaplains could do, after distributing cold water and work gloves. “It was a ministry of presence, just being there,” he said.

Brownell discovered that many people were interested in looking for very small items, such as melted coin collections — and they were in need of “sifting boxes” to sort through the ashes. So Yreka church members of all ages gathered together on a Saturday night in the church/school gymnasium to create 50 sifting boxes. Made from materials donated by a local store, each box consisted of a simple wood frame and wire mesh screen. The following morning the boxes were delivered to law enforcement and firefighters to be distributed to those who wanted them.

Church members were glad to find a useful way to help their neighbors. “Even though it was a small project, it was really nice for the church members to know they were doing something that was needed,” said Brownell.

Yreka Adventist Christian School
Students from Yreka Adventist Christian School also helped their community in a practical way after the Boles Fire. So many donations came in for the fire victims that the community was overrun with clothing and other items. The school’s fifth- through eighth-graders and others spent several hours at a warehouse helping to organize the donations. The girls sorted clothes by size so that people could easily find what they needed, and the boys organized boxes of toys. “It was really good that we showed up,” said their teacher, Mary Korcek. “The task was so overwhelming.”

Teachers at the Yreka school want their students to learn that community service isn’t reserved for a school project a few times per year, so volunteering after the fire was a good lesson that “helping happens when the need arises,” said Korcek.
 
Mount Shasta Church
Members of the Mount Shasta church discovered first-hand the Boles Fire’s devastation when a family in their church lost their home in the blaze. The church helped — and continues to help — the family get what they need to resume their lives. Church members also served their fellow Christians by giving the members of a local Methodist church a break on a Sunday so that they could attend their church’s worship services. All day Sunday, the Adventists took over the work going on in the Methodist church gym — organizing clothes, shoes, food and toiletries.

Mount Shasta church Pastor Jim Crabtree has been impressed by the dedication and commitment of the various Christian churches in his area. “The entire Christian community up here has just been outstanding,” he said. “People that give and care are really a delight for the soul.”

Reprinted, Pacific Union Recorder
North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904-6600 USA
Telephone: 301-680-6400
Fax: 301-680-6464
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