Christians Sweep Up Calif. Firestorm Mess

News about the widespread California wildfire have faded from the headlines, but Christian organizations and churches remain behind to help clean up the overwhelming destruction left by the fires.

Christian relief groups and local churches were some of the first to respond to the wildfires that ravaged southern California last week. Workers prepared meals and drinks for firefighters and evacuated locals. They provided counseling and comfort to distressed victims who fled their homes leaving everything behind except the clothes they had on.

At one point up to a million people were estimated to have been evacuated.

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee's Disaster Response Services (CRWRC-DRS) said it was holding a house-to-house needs assessment and reconstruction response among 1,800 homes and businesses that were destroyed. The church relief group is in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross and other agencies to plan to assist homeowners.

"With church groups from other parts of the country ready to assist, we are coordinating possible follow-up work with evacuees to help assess their losses, their eligibility for aid, and their available resources," said CRWRC-DRS director Bill Adams.

They plan to focus on the most vulnerable survivors – those without insurance, the elderly, handicapped, and those surviving below the poverty line.

CRWRC-DRS also rebuilt homes in low-income neighborhoods in the East hills near San Diego after wildfires in 2003.

International Christian relief and development agency World Vision is also working among survivors. It is distributing household basics to area families including bottled water, face masks, bedding and blankets, clothing, personal hygiene products, diapers and baby food, ground coffee and cleaning supplies.

World Vision will distribute the goods to local churches and community organizations who will in turn distribute them to evacuees.

Corporations who have donated supplies to World Vision's California fire effort include Cardinal Health, Cypress Medical, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, KIDS and others to amount to an estimated $2 million worth in product.

"It will take time for life to return to normal here," said Jo Carcedo, World Vision's area director for Southern California.

"World Vision is especially concerned about families whose homes have been completely destroyed, who didn't have insurance, who may have lost their jobs or who were already struggling financially," Carcedo said. "We'll continue working closely with our church partners in affected communities to make sure these families receive the support they need to get back on their feet."

Saddleback Valley Community Church has also pitched in to help provide food, housing, comfort and counseling to victims.

"It's been a busy, busy week," Saddleback senior pastor Rick Warren said on CNN's "Larry King Live" show last week. The 128-acre campus served as an evacuation center for refugees and as a "refreshment center" for about 500 firefighters.

"We have been housing animals, pets, feeding people," noted Warren.

The megachurch pastor said more than 600 people from his church's college ministry went into the hardest-hit areas of San Diego to pray, clean up and offered help.

In total, there were 23 wildfires in Southern California which was blamed for at least 14 deaths, more than 508,000 scorched acres, and the destruction of over 1,600 homes.