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California church becomes safe haven for fire evacuees

As residents in Northern California are forced to evacuate their homes a local church opens their doors to help those in need of a place to stay.

UPDATE: The numbers related to this story are changing quickly as the fires continue to burn. You can find the latest information on containment and damage on the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s website http://www.calfire.ca.gov. Look for the “California Statewide Fire Summary.”

Firefighters are working around the clock in Northern California as wildfires continue to burn.

Forty-one deaths are being blamed on the fires. Officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection say so far more than 245,000 acres have burned and about 5,700 homes and commercial structures have been destroyed.

In Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco, residents are waiting anxiously to see if they too will be evacuated.

“You know it is a scary thing. The fire that’s coming this way, they haven’t contained it,” said Loreena Hester, a member of the Sonoma Avenue Church of Christ in Santa Rosa, Calif.

The Sonoma Avenue church is close what has been labeled the “Tubbs Fire.” That fire alone, officials said, is responsible for 11 of the 17 deaths so far.

California’s governor has declared a state of emergency for multiple counties across the state, including Sonoma, where Hester lives, Napa, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, Orange and Solano counties. The White House has also approved the governor’s request for federal assistance.

Hester said a couple of church members are believed to have lost their homes and the congregation’s minister, Brice Smith, lives in an area which may soon be evacuated.

“If they do not contain it then it could come to his house,” said Hester.

The Petaluma Church of Christ has been designated an evacuation site by local authorities in Northern California.

A few miles down the road, the Petaluma Church of Christ has opened its doors as an evacuation center. The church’s building is far from the fires and considered a safe place for those leaving Santa Rosa.

Cots fill many of the rooms at the Petaluma Church of Christ as evacuees wait for the wildfires to stop.

Cots fill many of the rooms and volunteers are bringing in food, blankets and other supplies for those who are making the church building their temporary home.

George Robertson, minister for the Petaluma church, said he and other church members started welcoming friends and family members who needed to evacuate into their homes early Monday morning. However, as the day went on it was evident there was a need for other evacuees to have a safe place to go.

“Our house overflowed and so we decided to open our church building,” Robertson said. “It is emotional, having people we know have to evacuate, people who have lost their homes. It’s gone from disbelief to realization that places we’ve been to are just gone.”

He and church members began working with local officials to make it an official evacuation site. County and mental health services also are working with church members to provide for the needs of those who have had to evacuate.

“We’ve had people in shock and those who are very subdued, realizing that they may have just escaped death. And they’re worrying about do they have a home to go back to,” Robertson said.

Church members have been working to provide for the needs of those forced to evacuate due to fires in Northern California.

Church members from different congregations around the area have been coming in to help prepare meals and provide blankets and other items the evacuees need.

Robertson said the surrounding communities aren’t full of million-dollar homes or wealthy individuals — just average families.

He said serving those families has been an honor and a community effort.

“We’ve been able to pray with some, sit and be the ears that listen,” he said. “It’s been really neat to see our community love one another. That love of Christ is actually being demonstrated in this.”

The Petaluma Church of Christ is accepting donations to help with the costs associated with feeding and housing the evacuees. Donations can be sent directly to the church.

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort Inc. is also assisting those in the area. They have a truck with supplies headed to the Petaluma Church of Christ this week.


Filed under: California disaster relief Evacuation site National News Sonoma County Top Stories wildfires

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