Help Arrives for Calif. Wildfire Victims

Thousands of Californians forced from their homes by raging wildfires are being served hot meals and offered counseling by Christian relief workers deployed in the affected areas.

The Salvation Army has sent nine mobile canteen units and mobilized another six additional units as of Tuesday. The canteens have provided more than 15,000 meals and 15,000 drinks to thousands of individuals impacted by the disaster.

Salvation Army noted that it had completed its recovery efforts for the 2003 southern Californian wildfires only weeks ago before again sending out workers to respond to this week's wildfires.

"Our primary goal is responding to the immediate needs of the thousands of evacuees and relief workers in the area," said Lt. Col Doug O'Brien, divisional commander of The Salvation Army's Sierra Del Mar Division covering San Diego County. "Over the long-term, we expect to have many thousands of people who will need our help with long-term recovery to rebuild their homes and lives."

In addition, the evangelical organization is providing cots, cups and personal care kits to responders and survivors, along with emotional and spiritual care.

Wildfires in southern California raged on for a fourth day Wednesday causing an estimated 950,000 people to seek refuge in shelters, hotels and at friends' homes, according to CNN.

More than 20 fires have burned over 400,000 acres from the Mexican border to northern Los Angeles County and inland into the San Bernardino Mountains. Nearly 1,500 homes have been destroyed. The cost of homes destroyed by the wildfires is expected to be over $1 billion in San Diego County alone, an emergency official told CNN.

The relief arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, is also on the grounds in southern California.

Three kitchen units have been set up at First Baptist Church in Newhall, Calif., in north Los Angeles County and cooking has started, according to the North American Mission Board.

Meanwhile, two feeding units are deployed in Escondido and Mira Mesa. A shower unit is heading to the Escondido site.

About 100 NAMB disaster relief volunteers have been mobilized thus far, primarily to cook and serve food to firefighters and victims.

"Four years ago, we had another fire that destroyed a million acres and 3,000 homes," said Don Hargis, men's ministry specialist and state disaster relief coordinator for the California Southern Baptist Convention. "That took six months to clean up, so we expect the same length of time for these fires."

President Bush on Wednesday helped accelerate federal aid to the fire-ravaged area by signing a major disaster declaration.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the residents of California as they endure this tragic fire and the devastation it's caused," North American Mission Board president Geoff Hammond stated.

"Please be in prayer as well for the local churches as they minister."