NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. (Christian Examiner) – Disaster response teams from Samaritan's Purse, accompanied by crisis-trained chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, arrived in Northern California to minister to those affected by the still-burning Butte Fire and Valley Fire that has devastated three counties.
The Butte Fire began on Sept. 9 and the Valley Fire just three days later. Each has burned more than 70,000 acres, threatening and destroying thousands of residences, and are still less than three quarters contained.
"Two disaster relief units—tractor-trailers stocked with generators, tools, and supplies for our work—have arrived. ... These DR units will serve as our command centers during the response," Samaritan's Purse reported.
"Once areas open up, we will be assisting homeowners to sift through the ashes of their homes, looking for precious items that can be salvaged," the press release said.
The Butte Fire has destroyed 545 residences, while the Valley Fire has destroyed about 1,050, according to fire incident updates from CalFire, the state of California's forestry and fire department. These numbers are expected to continue to rise as fire personnel continue to attempt to contain the outbreaks.
"These fires are fierce and their destructive strength is overwhelming," Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, said in a press release.
"There are so many that need our prayers at a time such as this," Munday said. "Please join us in praying for the firefighters who are placing their lives on the line, for the authorities overseeing the entire situation, and especially for those who have lost loved ones and homes in this tragedy."
The Valley Fire has injured four firefighters and killed three civilians, while more missing citizens are still being located.
According to local news station KCRA, one of the deceased was a 72-year-old woman who was killed in her home. The fires are extraordinarily fast-moving because of the dry environment and series of days above a hundred degrees.
One of the missing is a 69-year-old man whose burned car was found without him. When he last spoke with family members, he told them he thought the fire would miss his home.
The state has implemented mandatory evacuations in Lake, Napa, and Sonoma counties as a state of emergency was declared by Gov. Jerry Brown. Thousands of people are displaced or without power, waiting to hear whether their homes are intact.
Both Samaritan's Purse and the Rapid Response Team have experience ministering to victims of wildfires in California, although the Valley and Butte Fires are the first fires to draw the ministries to the state this year.
The Red Cross shelters and designated evacuation points like churches and schools are filled with thousands of people, many of whom are hoping to be allowed to return to their homes soon to salvage what is left.
Some people had to leave their homes so quickly that they now possess only what they were wearing.
The two ministries are designed to comfort both physical and spiritual needs. Samaritan's Purse wrote, "Pray that as we comfort and assist homeowners they will respond in faith to the Gospel."