Wildfires near churches in Colorado, Montanaby Anna Groff
Ten families from Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs faced a mandatory evacuation due to the wildfire near Colorado Springs.
“Three of those 10 have homes in the heart of the worst-hit area,” says Merv Birky, pastor of Beth-El, on June 28.
Mennonite Disaster Service volunteers replace wood and single layer asphalt roofs with fire resistant shingles or sheet metal roofing at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp in Divide, Colo. Photo provided.
As of June 29, the Waldo Canyon Fire had destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Springs. About 32,000 were evacuated in and around Colorado Springs, but many evacuations were lifted on Sunday. The fire reportedly burned over 17,600 acres.
Another wildfire near Ashland, Mt., affects many who attend Ashland Christian Fellowship. They are without electricity and water. The fire, called the Ash Creek Fire, began June 26. The fire has likely grown to nearly 200,000 acres and remains about 40 percent contained, according to the Billings Gazette.
According to Carol Roth, director of Native Mennonite Ministries, the Ashland Christian Fellowship congregation is safe, however on the other side of Ashland area there has been evacuations with homes and building destroyed.
Two families in Colorado learned their homes are still standing. The third household remains hopeful but did not have confirmation as of June 28.
One of the homes survived, but the houses on either side did not. The other home near Flying W Ranch was saved due to the fire splitting and moving around the homes on that block.
Fire mitigation, or creating a defensible space around one’s home, can help, but it’s not the full explanation, said Birky.
Birky said these Beth-El members feel relief but grief for their neighbors.
“I hesitate to say God spared us,” said Birky. “But rather I recognize that God is present with all and not necessarily rewarding some.”
The fire is moving toward Woodland Park, where some church members live, causing some concern, said Birky. Woodland Park is on pre-evacuation notice.
At the beginning of the week, the fire seemed to be managed well, and the weather was cooperative.
“People had confidence [and were] taking it in stride,” said Birky. No homes were destroyed as of the morning of June 26, but the fire jumped that afternoon, and by nightfall it was in residential areas.
Due to the chaos and devastation, people felt frightened and concerned, said Birky.
However, by June 28, Birky said his church members felt more relaxed, and those evacuated hope to return by the weekend.
The church is located about three miles from the evacuation zone. Church members are providing food for shelters and evacuations. The church also offered their building for evacuated families, but the crisis-management system is using larger public buildings, such as schools.
Birky said he appreciates the emails from Mennonites around the country wishing them well and asking how they can help.
Unlike a tornado, which comes and goes quickly, a fire requires a lot of waiting, which can create feelings of helplessness, said Birky.
Corbin Graber, Rocky Mountain Mennonite camp director, wrote in a June 27 website update that the camp is not under evacuation but has plans in place if that changes.
“While we are mindful of current events, camp continues to operate as normal keeping informed of the situation,” he wrote. “The East side of the Waldo Canyon Fire by Colorado Springs is approximately 35 miles away from our location.”
Graber said he is grateful for the Mennonite Disaster Service youth groups and Hesston (Kan.) College disaster managements students' work this summer. The drought affords these groups a experience in fire mitigation. Projects include reducing forest fuels by thinning trees stands and removing low branches on trees, as well as replacing wood and single layer asphalt roofs with fire resistant shingles or sheet metal roofing.
On June 28, Melissa Roth, pastor of Mountain Community Mennonite Church (MCMC) in Palmer Lake, Colo., said none of her church members has been evacuated. Palmer Lake is about 20 miles north of Colorado Springs.
Roth voluntarily left her home and is staying with some people from MCMC. She has been in touch with all the families of MCMC. Some have left town, but many have stayed.
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