High winds and dry weather continue to fan the flames in the northwest as wildfires spread, damaging or destroying homes and businesses. Representatives of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s National Response Team have spent nearly a week meeting with the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest and the Synod of Alaska-Northwest to assess the damage and determine needs. The fires in Washington State and Idaho alone have burned thousands of acres over the past two weeks and the work to contain the fires continues.
The National Response Team consists of the Rev. Bill Neely, Jan Spence and Barbara Mason. The three report that despite the damage, volunteers and churches have mobilized to provide clothes, food and shelter for those displaced. The team has also visited some of the small, hard-hit communities of Kamiah and Kooskia, Idaho.
“Right now the people are still in shock and concerned about where the fire is burning and cannot fathom just what to begin to do for long term recovery,” said Spence. “We have helped to set up a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC), but local church leaders believe they and the other volunteers will have to make house calls in the surrounding hills to help those too traumatized and self-sufficient to come to town.”
Early in the visit, the NRT along with volunteers assembled donation bags and drove throughout the area to find anyone in need.
The Rev. LuAnn Howard, pastor of the Kamiah Community and Kooskia First Presbyterian Churches and the Rev. Dr. Mary Jane Miles, pastor of the First Indian and Second Indian Presbyterian Churches have been leading the relief effort. The NRT said whenever they see someone out; the pastors would stop and pray with them.
“The pastors of the area are a close-knit group and work well together. They have already begun to help one another with relief supplies and other assistance,” said Spence. “As with many disaster situations, they are a bit confused and seem helter-skelter at this time of beginning, because in many ways the crisis is not over yet.”
The teams left boxes of food and supplies in several places and spoke with locals who were cutting trees and brush in anticipation of high winds. At last report, church officials reported more than 50 homes destroyed and more than 300 people displaced.
“The immediate need is for prayers and financial support,” said Neely. “The people of the presbytery of Inland Northwest along with many other church folk and the community have been generous in giving water, clothing and food.”
Neely said the next step in the recovery is the organization of a local long-term recovery team. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is already working with local pastors and lay people to organize the team.
“Long term, there will be a need for building materials and financial resources to rebuild approximately 50 homes and numerous buildings,” said Neely. “As the community moves forward, there will be a need for work teams. PDA has offered the call center as one of the presbytery resources.”
The onsite distribution center has been overwhelmed with food, water, clothing and other items. NRT representatives say funds are needed now.
“PDA’s National Response Team volunteers stood beside and worshipped with our brothers and sisters, some of whom lost their homes to these wildfires,” said Rick Turner, associate for Disaster Response with PDA. “It is a testament to our connectional church and to our faith when Presbyterians travel to disaster-stricken areas to represent God through PDA.”
The NRT is expected to wrap up its visit to the region later this week.
Financial contributions can be made by visiting the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance website and designating gifts to DR000015.