(Photo: Reuters / Joshua Lott)
Churches and individual Christians have been aiding relief efforts to those affected by the Arizona wildfires this week, with one parishioner eye witness observing, "that’s beautiful faith.”
Residents of Sierra Vista were given an evacuation order Sunday as fire crews battled to halt the fire’s march towards the town. Local churches are taking donations for fire victims, and according to KGUN-TV Tuscan bishop Gerald Kicanas said: “We pray for an end to the fire, we pray for the safety of our firefighters and we pray that the monsoon rains will come and free us from these terrible fires that have been so devastating.”
Parishioner Tom Felix also reported that seeing the community's spirit and support overwhelmed him. He told KGUN-TV: “Coming here ... and just seeing everybody, my goodness that's beautiful faith.”
Following a difficult weekend, fire crews battling devastating wildfires in Arizona are this week hoping to make better containment progress, as weather forecasts predict slightly calmer winds and a rise in humidity levels.
Fire spokesman Bill Paxton said after a torrid weekend: “We've had a hard day today, with things that we didn't want to happen. The bull came out of the pen.”
Dry, windy conditions over the weekend allowed the Monument fire to break through four separate contingency lines, and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office broadened the evacuation zone east to the San Pedro River.
The Monument fire has now burned nearly 30,000 acres and remains less than 30 percent contained as of Sunday evening. It has so far destroyed 44 houses as well as 18 other structures since it started a week and a half ago.
CNN has reported that nationwide, wildfires across the U.S. have already burned as many acres in the first half of 2011 as all of last year. A shocking 3.1 million acres of land have been ignited by wildfires in the first five months of 2011; in 2010 only 3.2 million acres were burned in total.
The Arizona Wallow Fire has been responsible for much of those statistics. It has become the largest wildfire ever in Arizona history, and as of Sunday evening had alone burned 519,000 acres and was still just 51 percent contained.
The Arizona Southern Baptist Convention in Scottsdale deployed shower trailer units to support more than 100 evacuees staying at a shelter in Lakeside.
"Our shower trailer units ... provide the shower services that a lot of the shelter areas lack," Larry Hyde, Arizona disaster relief coordinator, told BP.
"This gives us excellent opportunities to put our disaster relief, our Southern Baptist people in personal contact with the disaster victims and gives us many good opportunities to be able to minister and share Jesus with the displaced people."
One Southern Baptist pastor helped find housing for nearly 30 of his church members who had to evacuate from Eager, according to BP.
Larry Hamblen, pastor of Jesus First Church, even welcomed some people into his own home and allowed them to stay in tents on his lawn or trailers on his property. Together, they have been eating meals and praying.
The Salvation Army has also been assisting in disaster relief services for Wallow Fire victims, providing over 2,700 meals, 673 snacks and 206 food boxes to evacuees.
Lawrence D. Jones contributed to this article