Disaster Relief serves during Colorado wildfires

Dec 22, 2020

By Irene A. Harkleroad

In less than a month, Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams moved from hurricane-ravaged Louisiana to Colorado’s wildfire devastation — from rain and flooding to snow and ashes.

Team one traveled twice to Laporte, Colorado, to work six miles from the Cameron Peak Fire. During the first week of November, they joined teams from other states to distribute meals prepared by Colorado Southern Baptist Disaster Relief’s feeding unit.

The second time, they helped shut down that unit and joined Colorado and teams from other states for ash-out duties, working with property owners when possible to locate personal items in the ashes of 12 properties.

“It was brutally cold and snowy,” said Dave Turner, blue hat (leader) of the Arizona team. “Many of these were very large homes with two or three stories. We had to crawl around furnaces, kitchen appliances, etc. and dig with shovels through layers of the collapsed structures.”

Remarkably, they recovered cast bronze art pieces, books, photos and other belongings spared by the fire.

Turner’s wife, Norma, is an Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain, and, in addition to working in the ruins, she provided spiritual encouragement to the combined team members and homeowners. The team also included two first-time volunteers who, despite the unusual working conditions and enormity of the job, were inspired and excited about the work of disaster relief.

Team two arrived in Grandby, Colorado, on Nov. 9 to spend two weeks providing ash-out services to people affected by the East Troublesome Fire. They worked alongside teams from Colorado, Missouri and Hawaii.

“Our team of five worked in the ruins of 11 homes and completed assessments of 18 others for the Colorado Southern Baptist Disaster Relief assistance center,” said Patty Kirchner, Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief interim director.

John Williams, blue hat from Hawaii, presents a Bible to a homeowner.

Because of the evacuation and total devastation of most homes, the team wasn’t able to meet with most of the owners in person.

“It was heart-wrenching to see the amount of devastation to the forests and the homes, Kirchner said. “There were many, many homes burned, and they didn’t burn partially. They were just gone. There were other homes spared that were practically right beside them. Fire is a strange animal.”

Blizzard-like conditions with 50-mile-per-hour winds and snow kept the team from working for one day. The rest of the time, they bundled up and worked.

Both teams prayed with homeowners when possible and presented them with Bibles signed by the team.

“It is great to serve the Lord and serve people in these desperate times,” Turner said.  “It’s not what people normally think of as a mission field, but it definitely is. We are grateful to be able to bring a little hope and encouragement.”

It has been a very busy year for the disaster relief teams. Volunteers are needed.

For information or a volunteer application, go to azsbc.org/disaster-relief/.

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