In the face of ongoing fires throughout California, Catholic organizations have responded with prayers, shelter, and food.
Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the U.S. bishops' committee on domestic justice and human development, offered prayers for the victims of numerous fires in California.
“I join in the heartfelt prayers offered by the bishops in the state of California in response to the terrible wildfires that have affected approximately thirty counties in that state,” he said Oct. 30.
The most destructive fire is currently the Kincade fire, which began in Marin County Oct. 23 and has so far burned over 75,000 acres. Although the fire is about 60% contained, it has damaged 47 structures and destroyed 266 more. The fire has also injured four people.
The Easy Fire initiated Oct. 30 near Simi Valley. It has claimed over 1,700 acres and destroyed 2 structures. It is five percent contained. The Getty Fire began Oct. 28 near Los Angeles, scorching 745 acres, destroying 12 homes, and damaging five more. This fire is 39 percent contained.
The Hillside Fire began in San Bernardino in the early hours of Oct. 31. It has claimed over 200 acres and forced more than 1,300 residents to evacuate. The fire is 80 percent contained.
A couple of hours after Hillside began, the 46 Fire started in Jurupa Valley. The fire is the result of a car crash involving a police chase and a stolen vehicle, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The fire is five percent contained.
According to CBS News about 206,000 homes throughout California are still facing a power outage. The power had been cut to prevent fires from spreading.
Dewane encouraged Catholics to pray for the victims and provide monetary support for people seeking to recover.
“It is in solidarity with our brother bishops in California, who have voiced their desire for prompt relief, that I encourage all appropriate public parties and the faithful to be generous in their financial support of these recovery efforts. Let us all pray for the safety of those affected and their property,” he said.
“The faithful of our nation are urged to support, through their petitions and concern, the efforts at extinguishment and recovery taking place throughout California in response to these fires.”
Among other Catholic efforts, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco is using the church as an emergency shelter. It has so provided shelter for 39 evacuees, which includes about a dozen children, according to KCBS Radio.
Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Marin County has continued to provide basic necessities to those in need, even when it lost power on Saturday evening. Christine Paquette, executive director for the organization, told CNA that SVDP had trained for natural disasters like these. She said programs, like Free Dining Room, saw a drastic increase in beneficiaries.
“We did stay open even though we had no power. We cooked with gas and served about 700 meals a day so about 50% more than the usual [amount],” she said.
“We have drilled to be able to prepare for that number of meals without power or without water. So we had all the materials that we needed and we had our staff trained so we weren’t guessing our way through it, nobody panicked,” she further added.
During the past three years, California has witnessed its two worst fires on record. Paquette said these natural disasters are a new normal and there must be safety measures in place. She said victims of fires are already anxious and need to be given an organized and safe location.
“[During] these fires and evacuations, people are absolutely at their most vulnerable. They are afraid, they don’t have their things with them, whether it’s their car or their clothes. People are really only fleeing with just themselves and hopefully their loved ones.”
“It’s really important to have an instant, compassionate, organized response. I think, in the past, when things aren’t as organized, it’s really hard on the victims because they are already very anxious and it makes a big difference to have a calming community response.”