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California fires destroy church building and threaten Pepperdine campus

Firefighters continue to battle massive wildfires across parts of California.

Raging wildfires in northern California have claimed at least 42 lives and destroyed more than 6,400 structures — including the meeting place of a Church of Christ.

The 50-member congregation in the town of Paradise lost its building and its minister’s home.

The blaze, known as the Camp Fire, consumed most of the small retirement community in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about 140 miles north of Sacramento.

“The sun is orange,” said Christy Presswood, a member of the Chico Church of Christ, about 15 miles west of Paradise. “It’s pretty smoky right now.”

A helicopter stops at Pepperdine University's reclaimed water pond to pick up water in the fight against the Woosley Fire.

A helicopter stops at Pepperdine University’s reclaimed water pond to pick up water in the fight against the Woosley Fire.

As of Monday afternoon, the Camp Fire had grown to 113,000 acres — nearly the size of the city of Chicago. It’s the state’s deadliest wildfire since 1991.

And the death toll could rise, Presswood told The Christian Chronicle.

“When they start going through those trailer parks, I just know there’s going to be a lot of the older generation that couldn’t get out,” she said.

As of Thursday, officials report 56 deaths related to the Camp Fire.

The 110-member Chico congregation is working with Tennessee-based Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort to provide aid to those in need, including a few evacuated church members who are waiting to see if their homes survived.

Nearly 500 miles to the south, another blaze, the Woolsey Fire, came frighteningly close to Pepperdine University in Malibu on Friday night and Saturday morning.

“That was a harrowing night, but we survived it,” said Sara Barton, chaplain for the 3,500 student university, which is associated with Churches of Christ.

The distinct “whup-whup-whup” of helicopters could be heard in the background as Barton spoke with the Chronicle from campus Monday. The university has a reclaimed water pond that can be used in emergencies by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

As the flames approached campus, the university was coping with another tragedy — the November 8 shooting death of freshman Alaina Housley, one of 12 victims of the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill by a shooter identified as Ian David Long.

‘That was a harrowing night, but we survived it.’

Just hours after mourning the loss of their classmate, students again huddled together on the campus to pray and read Scripture.

“We look to our faith to guide us,” Barton said. “The community we are is because of Jesus and so we look to that faith at this time. We can feel the spirit is among us.”

Pepperdine avoided serious damage, Barton said, thanks to the dedication of firefighters and efforts by university planners to make the campus resistant to fires.

The Woosley Fire moves closer to Pepperdine University's Malibu campus.

The Woolsey Fire moves closer to Pepperdine University’s Malibu campus.

The university used its shelter-in-place protocol during the blaze — a decision questioned by some students, parents and community members who evacuated. Pepperdine officials noted that the protocol is reviewed regularly by the L.A. Fire Department and has kept students safe through other wildfires. Workers clear brush annually at least 200 feet from campus buildings. Roads through campus also provide fire breaks.

As of Monday “there is still fire in the area,” Barton said, “but here at Pepperdine we cannot see smoke or flames.” However, some university students and faculty who live off campus lost their homes in the blaze, which has grown to 91,000 acres and is blamed for two deaths. The fire has consumed more than 500 structures.

Pepperdine has closed its campus until after the Thanksgiving holiday break, but will host classes remotely later this week.  

The university and the Chico Church of Christ are accepting donations to help in recovery efforts.

Donations to Pepperdine can be made online to the Pepperdine Crisis Response Fund at

http://impact.pepperdine.edu/crisisresponse

Donations to the Chico and Paradise areas can be mailed to:

The Chico Church of Christ

995 E. Lassen Ave

Chico, CA 95973

Filed under: Camp Fire National News Paradise Church of Christ Pepperdine Top Stories Woosley Fire

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