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Area faith leaders tell how people assist others in their burned out towns

Fire photo was taken Aug. 11 along Hwy. 12 outside Kamiah.
Photo by Volkhard Graf at vgrafphotography.com

As fast-moving fires have consumed the air, water, forests, grasslands, fields, homes, outbuildings and lives in the Inland Northwest, faith communities have prepared to assist in the long term, as well as immediately.

President Barack Obama declared Washington’s wildfires a federal emergency on Aug. 21, directing federal aid to fight the fires, allowing FEMA to coordinate relief and recovery efforts.

Regional church offices contacted suggest that funds for emergency shelters go to the Red Cross.  Each faith group also has its own disaster response funds being set up to help with recovery.  Many are also contacting their national disaster relief entities.

Dan Curley, communications director with the Salvation Army in Spokane, said families affected can visit local Salvation Army offices for gas cards and vouchers for their local thrift stores.

A chaplain is available to support families.

A mobile feeding unit—canteen—was deployed to Brewster to serve meals to firefighters and aid workers.  One is also in North Idaho.

With fires burning and none contained yet, Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services Director Shaun Jones expects the situation will become worse. “We’re in the field and helping everywhere we can. When the fires are contained, we will transition to clean up and helping families rebuild their lives.”

The Rev. Mike Denton, conference minister for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC), invites congregations to do three things:

• Pray for those affected and those fighting the fires.

• Take an offering for the Red Cross for immediate relief or to send to the regional church office for long-term recovery efforts.

• Consider joining a work team to help with recovery efforts – email pncucc@gmail.org with information on skills you might share.

Bishop Martin Wells of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Eastern Washington Idaho Synod reported on activities.

Pastor Paul Palumbo of Lake Chelan Lutheran Church received exiles from Holden Village.  When fire spread to Chelan, he attended to his parishioners and the town.

Pastor Kent Narum of Fullness of God, Holden Village, left with others as the fire grew.  He ministered in Chelan and 25 Mile Creek to the “exile community.”

Celebration Lutheran in East Wenatchee served Holden and Chelan evacuees, opening the building and ministering to their needs and boredom.

Martin said, “Holden is safe thanks to Forest Service work and the plan of the Holden fire chief to install huge rainbird devices that drenched the Village for weeks.”

“With a backburn in late August, the fire moved to 25 Mile Creek, where Holden has a Bed and Breakfast,” said Cathy Stiner, program administrator.

Pastor Betty Krafft of Chewelah reported fire in the Addy area.  Her church is involved in relief.

Pastor Gail Hart tended churches in Orofino and Kamiah as fires moved through the Clearwater River area.  One member lost a home in the Wieppe area.

The synod is collecting online donations—at ewaidsynod.org —for fire victims.

Cathy said Lutheran Disaster Resources will assess what resources may be needed for long-term assistance to fire victims.  The synod is receiving funds for NW Fires and will work with pastors in communities affected by fires to disburse designated funds.

For information, call 838-9871 or visit ewaidsynod.org.

Scott Cooper, director of Parish Social Ministries at Catholic Charities, and Rob McCann, executive director, spoke with three pastors in Okanogan County.

Fr. Pedro Bautista-Peraza, who serves in Twisp and Brewster, said the Twisp parish building was barely spared. He prepared for evacuation by gathering sacramental records.  Brewster high school is an evacuation center because most of the “fuel” in that area burned last year.

Fr. Luta Nsubga, who has been priest three months in Okanogan and Omak, has been responding.

When called, Fr. Jose Jaime Maldonado at Tonasket and Oroville, said less was happening to the north.  Fire eventually approached Tonasket.

Rob and a fellow employee to drove a truck with basics—food, water, towels and blankets—to the evacuation center in Brewster.

Fr. Michael Savelesky sent a message to parishes saying the diocese will report when they know the needs. Then Bishop Thomas Daly will set a coordinated plan.

Last year, Catholic Charities sent groceries and gift cards to victims of the Carlton Complex fire.  Funds from parishioners’ donations were used months after the fires to buy furniture and beds for families who lost their homes and relocated. 

“We bought beds at local vendors to help the local economy,” Scott said.

“First responders are the Red Cross, and state and federal agencies,” he said.  “We come later to assist with unmet needs.”

Scott said it’s important not to lose sight of fires that still burn after media turn their attention to bigger fires.

“The fires that grab the headlines grab the resources,” he said.

Volkhard Graf, commissioned ruling elder of the Nez Perce Joint Session and member of the First Indian Presbyterian Church in Kamiah, is posting photos of the fire on Facebook, Volkhard Graf Photography.

He shared a post from Youth with a Mission, Native Ministries, in Kamiah, asking for prayers for Kamiah, the Nez Perce Reservation and surrounding communities.  They said 50 homes and 75 other structures were lost.

He shared photos of fires near Kamiah, local volunteers, airplanes and hot shot crews.

A fire west of Kamiah had burned out, except for hotspots.  When interviewed, he reported fires near Woodland and Weippe.

Volkhard drove into the area where the fire had burned out, and saw that some homes were saved and some were lost.

The Rev. Luann Howard, pastor at Kamiah Community Presbyterian and First Presbyterian in Kooskia, asked the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest to alert the national Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). A team came the third week of August and stayed to assess the needs.

For information, call 208-935-6404 or email volkhard.graf@gmail.com.

The Rev. Sheryl Kinder-Pyle, Presbytery of the Inland Northwest executive minister, joined three volunteers from the PDA team visiting the area. They will provide national funding.

Luann said Kamiah was out of imminent danger, but fires threaten homes.

“There are plenty of clothes, and bedding. Our community has been pouring in everything they can spare,” she said.

“Many people made it out with camping trailers, however, the power and utilities are gone outside of town.  We need inflatable mattresses, towels, water, tarps, bottled water, coolers and food.  Local people are sharing produce,” she said.  “Given that the area is economically challenged, there is especially need for household goods.

“Miracle stories are beginning to emerge,” Luann said.  “God has been merciful and gracious to us.”

Episcopal Diocese of Spokanecommunication officer Cate Wetherald said diocesan staff and Bishop Jim Waggoner Jr. are using Facebook, Twitter, email and phone calls to receive and share information about fires burning in the north part of the diocese in Washington, throughout Idaho and hazardous smoke throughout the diocese.

“Our buildings are okay so far, but that’s the least of our worries,’ she said.  “We’re more concerned with the well being of our church family and neighbors.”

The diocese is still working on recovery from the 2014 Carlton Complex fire, said the Rev. Cannon Karen Schomberg, so “we will look for ways to help with recovery after these fires. We held a diocesan prayer vigil for the three firefighters killed, the one severely burned and the many people under stress.”

Scott Clark, who is working with Episcopal Relief and Development in the Okanogan, also connects with the Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, which coordinates efforts of churches, government and agencies to help with rebuilding and long-term recovery.

“Wildfires are unlike other disasters such as hurricanes that may last 48 hours and be over.  Until the flames are out and the air is clear again, our focus will be on where and how we can best help,” Karen said.

For information, call 624-3191 or visit spokanediocese.org to donate to the disaster Relief Fund.

The Inland Empire Baptist Association is responding to the Idaho fires.  For information call 208-437-0212.

Two churches in the Northwest District of the Church of the Nazarene had been in danger but were not damaged.

Red Cross evacuation centers were set up at schools in East Wenatchee, Brewster, Hunters, Coulee Dam, Loon Lake and Chelan, and a Colville church.

For information, call 326-3330 or visit redcross.org/ewa.





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