TEMECULA, Calif. Under a heavy blanket of ash-laden air, Daphne Berlin, the Red Cross public information officer for Riverside County, was heading back to the command post assess the latest developments in a series of wildland fires hopscotching Southern California.
Although unsure what that day's fire activity would bring, of one thing Berlin was certain, she could count on the assistance of area churches.
"I don't think there is a church within Riverside that has not stepped forward," she said, her raspy-smoke worn voice cracking with emotion. "It's overwhelming to see the kindness of people, to see people at their worst (emotionally) and people coming together."
According to state fire officials more than a dozen fires were burning from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. At one point, nearly 900,000 people were evacuated and more than 400,000 acres were burned. An early estimate of the structure loss is 1,300, with most of the home loss coming in San Diego, where at least four major fires continue to burn.
Although the greatest damage came in San Diego, other Southern California communities were also ravaged with fires burning in Malibu, Santa Clarita, Lake Arrowhead, Live Oak Canyon and Lake Forest. As of Oct. 24, the Red Cross was operating three shelters, Temecula Valley High School and the Temecula Community Recreation Center, and then adding Chaparral High School after first neared capacity. Temecula was not far from an area firefighters were watching as two separate blazes threatened to combine into one mega fire.
Berlin could not offer specific assistance provided by the churches, saying that there was so much going on it was difficult just to keep up. Many churches just showed up at the shelters with donations, especially clothing.
She said many have committed to ongoing support after the immediate need dissipates with the brutal Santa Ana winds, and the focus shifts to recovery.
"They are going to need everything from silverware to a hairbrush," she said.
Among the church organizations assisting Southern California fire victims is the Salvation Army, which has numerous mobile canteens fanned out into the community, including one that operated for a time at Irvine Park. Other areas where the Salvation Army was assisting was in the Malibu Canyon and Santa Clarita burn areas. The Salvation Army was also accepting truckloads of donations in San Bernardino at 746 W. 5th St., behind the Greyhound Bus Depot.
Seattle-based World Vision said it has tapped into its Southern California network to determine needs.
"We're in touch with our 80-plus church partners in the affected areas to identify any families with limited means, families left destitute by these fires, or people who may have difficulty accessing other assistance," said Jo Carcedo, World Vision's area director for Southern California.
The organization has also shipped a variety of suppliesbottled water, facemask filters and clothingto its Los Angeles storehouse.
More long-term resources such as blankets, tents, cooking sets, a water purification system and additional clothing are on stand-by and could be shipped from World Vision's global distribution site in Denver.
Convoy of Hope
Convoy of Hope, a nonprofit organization that assists local churches in reaching out to the community, has sent two representatives to Los Angeles to determine what it can do to help.
Founded in 1994, the group has a history of assisting in Southern California, including a Dec. 8 event planned in San Diego. Their typical outreaches feature grocery distribution, haircuts, health screens, and job fairs.
Among those needing immedicate help is Malibu Presbyterian Church, a 50-plus year old congregation that lost its sanctuary and preschool Oct. 21.
"We believe that in the midst of darkness, God brings forth hope and salvation through Jesus Christ. The Lord will make something beautiful out of the ruins and ashes of our church building," Pastor Greg Hughes said in a statement posted on the church's Web site. "I believe we will mature and grow stronger as a result of this challenge."
Church officials, while focusing on long-term recovery efforts for the nearly 300-member church, planned to hold its first service after the fire at 10 a.m. Oct. 28 at the Malibu Performing Arts Center.
Undergirding the work of the churches is the Red Cross, which, by Oct. 23, had opened nearly two dozen shelters in the Southland; provided 40 trucks of supplies; dispatched 50 Mobile feeding vehicles, with 25 more expected and arranged for cleaning supplies.
According to the Red Cross, its local chapters have trained more than 1,500 local volunteers to help with the effort and the national Red Cross headquarters has moved nearly 2,000 additional workers to the area.ACTION POINT: For information on the World Vision project, call 1-888-56-CHILD or visit www.worldvision.org. For more information about Convoy of Hope, visit www.convoyofhope.org or call 823-8998.