Leaders of an influential Redding, California, church is responding to criticism that they did not open their building as an evacuation site as a massive wildfire forced tens of thousands of city residents to flee their homes.
Bethel Church, a charismatic congregation with Assemblies of God roots and which has several thousand members, explained Monday that when the Carr fire grew worse — a blaze which has torn through Shasta County and into parts of Redding proper since it began last week — they offered their building to be a site for evacuees, but authorities turned them down.
As the flames grew, tens of thousands of Redding residents were forced to leave their homes and several churches opened their doors to shelter them, but Bethel was not among them. A flurry of irked social media postings criticizing the church ensued.
Yet Bethel’s local church operations director, Lauren Vallotton, said that the church building was not considered a safe place for large crowds, explaining in an interview with the local ABC affiliate on Sunday that the church only has one road in an out of its premises.
“I think that what happens, those nights when the evacuations started happening so quickly, everybody went into, obviously, we need to make sure everybody is safe,” Vallotton said. “In any sort of crisis situation, you’re only a couple steps ahead of yourself for a few days.”
A Red Cross spokesman confirmed to the news outlet that the church had indeed offered to be an evacuation center but said their location was too close to the fire zone to have people staying there overnight. Instead, they worked it out for the church to serve as a Salvation Army aid distribution hub.
“Starting on Tuesday, we’ll actually be able to feed people as they come through,” said Jordan Pacilio, who directs Bethel’s global disaster response efforts.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter