The most devastating wildfire in California, a state of many wildfires, is still raging near where my brother Larry lives. It’s “the most” in every way—acres burned, houses destroyed, lives lost. “Camp Fire” sounds cozy and idyllic until it’s the name of such a fire. It’s now, since it began Thursday morning, only 30% contained.
Larry is back in his house now, but when he was told to evacuate, suddenly important decisions were thrust upon him and his wife Nancy. What do you take with you when you know you may return to nothing?
I was asked that very question as a get-acquainted icebreaker at a women’s retreat years ago. I don’t recall what I answered. One friend said special letters she’d kept. Most women first said photo albums and family pictures. I think Nancy took those. Larry’s first item was his computer, and in today’s world we’ll still have our photos if we have our computers. That is different, however, from the warmth we feel in looking through old family albums and remembering our special times together and sometimes all the effort that was put into the album itself.
I literally shiver when I think of all the mementos and personal possessions people have lost, not to mention loved ones—42 and growing, at last count. But Larry’s point was that when he looked around his home—a lovely, gracious one, for sure—he didn’t see much he couldn’t do without. In the long run, it’s people that matter to us.
The smoke cover has reduced the temperature in Chico to the thirties during the day, quite different from their usual sixties. Many whose homes are intact have had to flee to avoid breathing problems.
Even for people who have insurance and can eventually rebuild their homes, there are immediate, urgent needs. People are living in shelters, homes of friends and family, and hotels; the burden of simply supplying food for all those displaced people is hard to comprehend.
In World War II, when European people fled their homes to a safer country, they were called DPs—Displaced Persons. And that’s the situation for all those whose homes and cars burned. Displaced. Temporarily, but living with deep grief for all that’s lost.
So we certainly pray for those DPs, but what else can we do if we don’t live nearby? We aren’t present to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but if you want to send money—the only thing I can think of right now—I can give you the contact info for a special fund set up to receive and disburse funds through Larry’s church. Different from larger helping organizations, all funds will go directly to those who need them with no administrative costs.
A truck from Disaster Relief Effort, Inc., is en route to Chico to help where needed. Larry has worked with them before, but never so close to home. They are incredibly helpful in such situations. They accept donations through their website.
Meanwhile, as the Chico Church of Christ website urges, we will pray for the firefighters, those running evacuation centers, and the precious people who have suffered such losses.
And the irony of the name of this town of 26,000? This town where people chose to live for the temperate weather, the pleasant people, the lovely scenery?
In this case, Paradise Lost.