United Methodist Response to the Wildfires

July 28, 2018

Asbury UMC: Please take note of our United Methodist Response to the Wildfires in our state and our opportunities help!

Sonja Edd-Bennett, director of disaster response for the California-Nevada Conference, has the following update as it relates to the fires and our efforts:

Carr Fire (Redding/Shasta) – This is currently the most aggressive and dangerous fire in Northern California. As of 6 a.m. Saturday morning, officials report about 80,000 acres burning and just over 28,000 people evacuated with no identified date for repopulation. Over 500 homes have burned with many more having been damaged. Though not currently ready, some clean-up will need to happen by specialized teams before people will be allowed back in (burned and unstable trees, hidden pits with ash, etc.).

While we anxiously await the containment of this firestorm, here are a few things to know:
Redding UMC Pastor, Joe Major, and his wife Julia are evacuated along with about 60 members of their church, many of whom are staying with friends and families
Most, if not all, of the community served by the Shasta Lake United Methodist Church has been evacuated. Pastor Tara Macy of the church reports she is still in her home at this point.

This is now a State Declared Emergency which will help significantly with aid. Our office is helping the state gather information on who is doing what to assist all involved. I am also working with the State Office of Emergency Service and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) at the state level to host a situational awareness and information gathering call Monday. This is the time when our other partners can hear what is being done, what will be done, and what the unmet needs are. I will be making calls to our coordinators if there is need for our ERT or UMVIM teams.

A major role of my office is to come alongside the Redding and Shasta Lake churches and leadership as they move into immediate response and then long term recovery, likely participating in the Local Assistance Center when it opens, and then collaborating with other agencies to discover how the United Methodist Church, and possibly UMCOR, might have a role in the longer term recovery.

Immediate needs for survivors will be helped through an emergency grant from the Conference Disaster Fund, and evaluation made if additional assistance needs to be requested from UMCOR.

Ferguson Fire (Mariposa County/Yosemite Area) – This fire is burning primarily on federal land, though some neighborhoods have been and are being threatened. As of this writing, some homeowners are being allowed to return. Rev. Dr. Allison Byerly and I have been in touch regularly for the past two weeks as she has been monitoring the situation and potential need of all those impacted. I was on a call yesterday with a group including social services, other county officials, other VOAD members and Pastor Allison.

Although not many structures are threatened, there are concerns for those evacuated (some as many as 12-13 days) and the loss of wages for Yosemite workers who may already be vulnerable to economic hardship.

This is now a state declared disaster, though it is not clear if there will be individual assistance for those who have been displaced.

An immediate response of $2,000 from the Conference Disaster Fund is being sent.

Klamathon Fire (Siskiyou County) – This fire burned 82 structures, with approximately 34 being homes in the small, under resourced town of Hornbrook and is now moving into the Recovery Stage. Yreka Pastor, Rev. Dr. Toni Hartman, is very active in response (she is also a Sheriff’s Chaplain) as are members of the church, some of whom live in Hornbrook area and/or work for county agencies such as the Department of Agriculture.

This became a state declared disaster.

I participated in the Local Assistance Center (LAC), a ‘one-stop shop’ for services, with church member, volunteer and senior program director Michael Raney (also a Stephen Minister).

We distributed nearly $4,000 in gift cards from the Conference Disaster Fund.

Church staff are gathering data on the fire to help determine if a long term recovery effort is needed.

We hope to have a recovery workshop in the area in about a month, provided by Pastor Toni and other partners.

Pawnee Fire (Lake County) – This is the 5th fire in 4 years for the residents in Lake County and quickly became a state declared disaster. I worked with Pastor Shannon Kimbel-Auth and Pastor Dawn Roberts to identify needs and capacity for assistance within the community.

We were present at the LAC all 3 days, 1 day with community volunteers, and the 2nd and 3rddays with Early Response Team (ERT) volunteers from the South Bay Area and organized by Leslie Carmichael, our Conference ERT Coordinator.

Most of the 22 homes lost were lower income and all needed assistance.

Gave out $4,000 from Conference Disaster Fund for immediate gift cards for gas and groceries to replace food lost due to extended evacuation.

Received Emergency Grant of $10,000 from UMCOR to help with additional gift cards for evacuees (up to 1500 evacuated) and additional unmet needs or immediate needs of other subsequent fires in the area.

Lake County’s existing Long Term Recovery Group will provide the Disaster Case Management of the new cases, and we will continue to work with partners to identify ways the local UMC as well as the Conference and UMCOR may be of help.

Pastor Shannon presented a workshop on recovering from Trauma and Developing Resiliency in Clear Lake, and 13 attended form the community. We are in discussion about possible other workshops to provide ongoing spiritual and emotional care.

Unfortunately, as of this morning, Saturday, July 28, more fires have broken out overnight. We will be working with pastors in Lake and Mendocino Counties to monitor impact and determine need for assistance.


Prayer – Pray for all those whose lives have been impacted by these fires, including firefighters, relief workers, and those who are survivors of previous fires

Cash Donations –Consider donating cash through one of the following:
California Nevada Annual Conference Disaster Fund, https://www.cnumc.org/disasterresponse
Individually effected churches, denoting funds are for disaster relief
UMCOR – https://www.umcor.org/UMCOR/Support
Cash is the most flexible and manageable way to donate to response and recovery.

Material donations require space, organization and management. Unsolicited donations of items such as clothing, furniture, and toys require space, organization and management and are considered the ‘disaster within the disaster’, taking human and financial resources away from survivor recovery.  

Volunteering –If you feel a call to give of your time and talent, please do so through an organized group. Unrequested and/or unsupervised volunteers can be more of a challenge than a help! Opportunities include your local Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team or other groups from the church; or consider joining in with a community partner such as the American Red Cross or check in with https://californiavolunteers.ca.gov/current-disasters/

Relief Supply Kit – While it may not come to our specific disaster, UMCOR’s relief-supply kitsprogram benefits us all. Check out the link to see how you can help

Training – There is no time like the present to prepare for the future! We are hosting a variety of trainings across the Annual Conference. Keep an eye on the Conference calendar for dates

Sonja Edd-Bennett
Director, Disaster Response Ministry
California-Nevada Annual Conference of
The United Methodist Church
1350 Halyard Drive
W. Sacramento, CA 95691
Cell:  916-715-7401
Email:  [email protected]

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