West Coast plagued by raging fires; churches' relief efforts complicated by COVID-19 lockdowns

A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. - Dangerous dry winds whipped up California's record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes Tuesday, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. |

West Coast city skylines are orange and besotted with ash as fires set by arsonists continue to rampage across the land and churches respond to those who've been displaced.

Since the blazes began, approximately 2.3 million acres have been consumed, around 20 times what burned in 2019, according to California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Some residents of the San Francisco Bay area are likening the conditions to "a scene from Mars," NBC News reported. 

As a result of weeks of fires, "no sunrise was visible as a mix of fog and smoke ... enveloped towns and cities in a haze that resembled perpetual predawn light," NBC News added. 

In southern Oregon, which has also been affected by the fires, some churches are coordinating relief efforts.

Pastor Lee Gregory of Medford Neighborhood Church said in an interview with ABC News affiliate KDRV that his congregation is restarting a previous campaign called "I C.A.R.E" to assist displaced residents. Gregory drove near the Phoenix area on Wednesday morning and saw the destruction caused by the Almeda Drive Fire.

Gregory said he's working with local churches and asked that they open their parking lots to people who've escaped the fires and are now living in RVs and trailers and need a place to stay.

"I just want you to know we're going to have a lot of displaced families," he said. "I pledge every penny will help those who are displaced by this fire."

The pastor is a native of Paradise, California, a town in the northeastern Sacramento valley that was almost totally destroyed during wildfires in 2018. The current fires are endangering the town yet again, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

"It's a bit of a nightmare repeating itself," Gregory said, recalling having to relocate his relatives to escape the fires.

Before-and-after satellite images released Thursday show the Jackson County, Oregon, towns of Talent and Phoenix nearly destroyed by the fires.

The difficulty in distributing aid to displaced people has been compounded due to ongoing restrictions due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Mike Bivins, the director of disaster relief for the California Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press on Thursday that teams are providing meals to families in Monterey who had to evacuate and they're offering personal property recovery services to over 1,000 homeowners in the Napa area.

“With limited face-to-face communication, it is difficult to assess needs and communicate the love and hope of Christ,” Bivins said.

“One of California Southern Baptists’ best resources is our local churches,” he added. “Many of our churches located near the fires are preparing and responding to the immediate needs of evacuees by providing water, snacks, gift cards, temporary evacuation points and coordinating with other organizations active in disaster.”

Equipped with a mobile kitchen that is on standby if needed, Bivins said local churches are already sharing the responsibility of preparing and delivering meals for those affected by the Creek Fire as it continues to spread.

Holly Brown is among the tens of thousands of Californians displaced and has found refuge outside the Clovis Hills Community Church, a Baptist Church in Clovis, which is just northeast of Fresno. Brown fled the flames of the Creek Fire with her mother, brother, and four dogs. Clovis Hills Church has been distributing food and providing items for evacuees from donations.

“Our entire community is gone,'' Brown told USA Today. "Everyone is evacuated. We could hear the trees exploding as this red glow came up over the hillside."

Shawn Beaty, senior pastor at Clovis Hills said in an interview with ABC30 Action News the community support has been "astounding."

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