The church was thought to have burned. Given its location within an early evacuation zone, First Christian Paradise was assumed among the buildings destroyed by the Camp Fire in Butte County, CA. With the town under mandatory evacuation, Pastor Janice McCollester and other church leaders were unable to return to the church to confirm.
On Sunday, the congregation gathered at First Christian Church Chico, which graciously opened its facility, setting up a worship area for FCC Paradise and helping Skype in Pastor McCollester from Los Angeles and others who had evacuated out of the area.
Eventually, Pastor McCollester was able to get in contact with firefighters who went by the location of the church and reported it was still standing, unburned. The report comes as “a bit of light among all of the grief and loss,” as Regional Minister LaTaunya Bynum describes it. Among the nearly 9,000 destroyed structures, however, are most of the houses in Paradise, including the homes of most of the members of the church. The exact extent of the damage will not be known until evacuations are lifted and members are able to return, but the effects will be widespread.
Due to likely smoke damage, the church building will be unusable for some time to come, and in the meantime, FCC Chico will continue providing space for their neighbor congregation. Pastor Jesse Kearns wrote in an update on Wednesday:
“We have set up our fireside room next to our fellowship hall so that they can worship at their normal time on Sunday mornings. We have also set up office space for their pastor... Evacuations are being lifted as firefighters gain containment. The weather is calling for rain next week, and it can’t come soon enough. Meanwhile the air quality here is very dangerous. Post Offices in Chico are full of people from the affected areas whose mail is being forwarded to Chico. The line for the downtown Post Office was a block and a half long yesterday and about a block this afternoon. Finding missing persons and missing pets remains a challenge too. I’m afraid the casualties for this fire will continue to rise as rescue workers and cleanup crews continue to survey the burned areas.“
Week of Compassion has already begun providing solidarity grants for affected families in the Paradise and Chico congregations and are in touch with ecumenical and area partners to support relief efforts. FCC Chico is in conversation with the area Interfaith Council to identify options for long-term assistance, while FCC Paradise is first focusing on accounting for and caring for their members.
The Camp Fire, which has burned 140,000 acres, has resulted in at least 56 casualties, with hundreds of others still unaccounted for. Immediate needs are shifting quickly, but recovery from this fire, which comes at the same time as the Woolsey Fire in Southern California and just three months after the destructive Carr and Mendocino Complex fires, will be a long process. Representatives from Northern California VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) told Week of Compassion staff on Thursday that this is the first time they have seen this percentage of fire damage in a single municipality. Long-term recovery, especially restoration of infrastructure and housing, is of major concern. Another significant concern they note is the high percentage of elderly residents and residents with disabilities and access and functional needs.
Your prayers and gifts help Disciples respond now--with solidarity grants through our local congregations--and throughout the months and years to come.