Wildfires stirred immediate responses
When two wildfires raged in Spokane County beginning Aug. 18, faith communities rallied into action to feed, clothe, shelter, comfort and provide supplies for those who were evacuated from fire zones or lost their homes.
Faith communities have regular roles in disasters, coordinating with each other and with other disaster response and government organizations. Each has a unique role and responds at different times. Some help early with evacuees, and many help people through the long-term recovery phases as people rebuild their homes and lives. Many provide channels for collecting funds and volunteering.
The information provided on wildfire response describes how communities of faith are involved and partner with others.
Directories given to centers
While distributing Resource Directories to congregations, evacuation centers and outreach programs in the fire areas, directory editor Malcolm Haworth compiled information on churches and agencies assisting Spokane County Emergency Management and Red Cross. He is preparing a list of faith communities and community agencies responding. It will be available at thefigtree.org.
Malcolm offered a sampling:
• Redemption Church in Medical Lake distributed food, clothing and essentials delivered by a semi-truck from the Assemblies of God's Convoy of Hope.
• Cheney Church of the Nazarene offered a pop-up clothing and essential needs bank for those who were displaced.
• Medical Lake Outreach's Care and Share Thrift Store opened to offer clothing and medical supplies.
• VFWs in Medical Lake and Airway Heights collected and distributed essentials.
• In Deer Park, there were drop-in day shelters at Christ Church, which allowed animal trailers, and Open Door Church, which let RVs park in its lot.
• In Colbert, New Hope Resource Center distributed clothing and hygiene items for people at Red Cross Centers related to the Oregon Road fire.
• North Country Food Bank was open all week.
• The Country Church of the Bible was open as a 24/7 shelter, offering meals.
• Turning Point Open Bible opened as a shelter for several days and cooked meals for churches like Country Church of the Open Bible and Peaceful Valley Community Church in Elk.
• Serve Spokane at North Church helped Mead Food Bank.
ELCA bishop briefed on LDR
New as bishop of the Northwest Intermountain (NWIM) Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Meggan Manlove had just been on a Zoom call with the Washington State Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) representative a week before the Spokane area fires began.
She learned how Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) partners through the long relief process.
Meggan said several members of St. John's Lutheran in Medical Lake lost homes. The fire came within a few blocks of the church building, which opened when it was safe to provide essentials.
St. John's and Emmanuel Lutheran in Reardan are served by co-pastors Carol and Greg Yeager, who held worship for both churches in Reardan Aug. 20.
"They had planned to open the worship with a litany of lament about the fires in Lahaina, Hawaii. Little did they know that the lament would be for the fires much, much closer to home," reported Betty Krafft, a Fig Tree Board member and liaison with the NWIM. "It has been heartening to receive many messages of prayer and support for the Medical Lake community and others affected by the fires."
St. John's is posting updates on their Facebook page.
Meggan said the state coordinator LDR suggests synod members give to 1) Inland Second Harvest at 2-harvest.org, which is providing food to those who are impacted, or to 2) LDR, designating them "U.S. Wildfires," to assist those affected by the region's wildfires.
Bishop plans for long-term
On Aug. 22, Bishop Gretchen Rehberg of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane said that the diocese and its congregations were raising funds for those in need and working with Episcopal Relief and Development for financial and long-term support for those needing help.
"As we continue into longer-term recovery, we will see how we can best contribute to those efforts," she said.
Adventists go into action
Patty Marsh, director of Adventist Community Services and Disaster Response with the Upper Columbia Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, posted Aug. 19 on Facebook:
"Our first responders and emergency management teams were working around the clock with an air quality index from 300 to 500. We grieve with those who have lost homes, and are thankful for those whose homes were spared," Patty commented.
Spokane County Emergency Management contacted her on Aug. 18. She continues in dialogue with them.
"Soon we will need volunteers to assist in the recovery stage, and distribute the items Spokane County Emergency Management requests," she said, expecting that special "fire offerings" will be taken in Upper Columbia Conference churches.
For information, email at email@example.com.
Church action comes soon
Mike Bullard, who previously led Idaho Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) and has worked with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), said the early stages are about first responders, firefighters, Spokane Emergency Management and the Red Cross, which has housed and fed people.
On Aug. 25, Spokane County Emergency Management and Community Organizations Active in Disaster opened a Disaster Assistance Center in Building 9 at Spokane Falls Community College. Many aid organizations set up information tables so victims can come to one place and sign up for various kinds of assistance from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.
"The real involvement by larger church organizations develops in the next weeks as we transition into the long-term recovery and rebuilding process," Mike said.
UCC geared for long-term
Jonna Jensen, acting conference minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, said that the UCC response is generally geared toward long-term recovery, aware that the Red Cross and FEMA, as well as local churches, provide the first level of response.
CCEW raises funds
Catholic Charities Eastern Washington (CCEW) set up an emergency fund to support individuals, families, communities and businesses impacted by wildfires. Donations help its Emergency Response team provide bottled water, hygiene items, clothing, food, medicines and other essential items.
Salvation Army offers canteens
The Salvation Army of Spokane deployed two full canteen trucks to recovery centers for both fires: Redemption Church in Medical Lake and Community Church of the Bible in Elk. They have drinks, snacks, blankets, stuffed animals and more.
"While damage is being assessed, we focus on immediate needs of food, clothing, and emotional and spiritual support. We will be in the community walking through the recovery process with people," said Andrea Reedy, incident commander. "It's beautiful to see neighbors rally to meet needs."
Brian Pickering, communications director, said donations are "the best way to support fire victims." He set up a donation link at bit.ly/WAFiresHelp.
"Funds will help families where it's most needed," he said. "When we have the green light to go into the fire area, we will do so with individuals trained to help in disaster situations."
The Salvation Army seeks volunteers to drive canteens, distribute drinks and snacks, and provide emotional/spiritual support.
Baha'is donate funds
Individuals in the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Spokane County North have contributed their funds and their time as volunteers to help those affected by the local wildfires, said Brenda Beaulieu, secretary of that community. The assembly is sending funds to the local Red Cross and Second Harvest.
Stake opens help centers
The Spokane Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened three buildings to provide backup for The Red Cross Evacuation Shelter at Spokane Falls Community College. They offered bedding, supplies, food and emotional support.
For people in the Oregon Road fire, the church offered clothes, diapers, toiletries and canned food at 34221 N. Newport Hwy.
In addition, the church received a special emergency request at their headquarters in Salt Lake City, and in response they sent 40,000 pounds of shelf-stable food that should arrive Sept. 7 at Second Harvest.
"Many families have been impacted by the recent fires and this is one impactful way we could meet an immediate need." said Darrell L. Moseley, President of the Spokane Stake of the church.
The church will implement a Disaster Response JustServe project for both areas when cleanup and recovery begin. For information, call 981-3041.
SRHD warns on air, debris
The Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) and Spokane Clean Air kept residents informed about air quality and smoke exposure symptoms—coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, stinging eyes, a runny nose, shortness of breath, chest pain and headaches—and when to seek medical attention.
For information, visit srhd.org/health-topics/environmental-health/wildfire-smoke, at srhd.org/air-quality-wildfire-faq and at spokanecleanair.org/air-quality/wildfire-smoke.
After a wildfire, property owners have many considerations as they clean up remaining structures and the land.
The SRHD suggested that before people clean up their property after a fire, they review information on the potential hazards, how and when to start, how to handle and dispose of debris and chemicals, and how to deal with wells, septic systems and other health issues.
For information, visit srhd.org/health-topics/environmental-health/after-a-wildfire.