Churches Step Up to Shelter Fire Evacuees in Northern California

A firefighter from San Matteo helps fight the Kincade fire in Sonoma County, California, on Oct. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

Around 4:45 a.m. Sunday (Oct. 27), staffers at CrossWalk Community Church in Napa got a call, alerting them the church would need to serve as an evacuation center as the Kincade fire continued to spread in Northern California.

By 6 a.m., the church doors were open.

Members set up the the gym space to host evacuees and cleared the sanctuary area after worship services to make room for additional cots. About 20 evacuees stayed that night at the church; some 45 had been assisted as of Tuesday.

Wednesday morning, the Kincade fire in Sonoma County wine country entered its eighth day and had grown to more than 76,000 acres. As of Wednesday, the fire had destroyed 206 structures, including 94 homes, and injured two first responders. More than 90,000 structures remained under threat, including 80,435 houses. Firefighters had reached 30% containment of the blaze. A Cal Fire advisory listed six churches, such as St. Mary’s Cathedral and Calvary Chapel of Petaluma, serving as evacuations centers. Some were at capacity.

Down south, the Getty fire — which broke Monday in a canyon west of Interstate 405 and near The Getty — had grown to 745 acres and was 27% contained Wednesday morning. It had destroyed 12 homes and damaged five others.

Pastor Peter Shaw said CrossWalk Community Church has been prepping for months for a disaster like this.

“From my own experience, I can pretty much guarantee that the majority of people that end up in shelters for days at a time are those that don’t have the means or connections to find other accommodations,” Shaw said.

CrossWalk served as a shelter during the 2017 Tubbs fire in Northern California that killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes.

During that time, Shaw remembers the church assisting people from “all walks of life,” including tourists visiting Napa Valley, wealthy people from gated communities, and others from lower socioeconomic positions.

Since then, the church has met every month with other community organizations to learn disaster relief practices. They discuss pet and child care and other accommodations like bathroom showers.

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Source: Religion News Service