By Carl Stagner
Wildfires have scorched more than 600,000 acres in Washington State alone this year. Massive infernos rage on in seventeen states, mostly out West, including the particularly hard-hit states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. Fueled by prolonged drought, these fires have forced the evacuations of thousands, destroyed hundreds of homes, and claimed the lives of three firefighters. For the first time in the state’s history, Washington has had to ask for the help of volunteers as they battle blazes beyond their control. Local churches have stepped up to help by offering space for evacuees, collecting supplies for firefighters, and rallying believers to unite in prayer. Many have witnessed firsthand the power and destructive force of these fires, as well as the opportunities for being the hands and feet of Christ.
“We had about three families that had to be evacuated, but fortunately everybody has returned to their homes,” Warren McMasters, pastor of Lifeline Church of God in Colville, Washington, explains. “We still have two families on Stage 2, which means they have to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.” Though the smoke is thick throughout town, the church is safe and everyone is accounted for. But Pastor Warren says many of the area residents have lost their homes. “We as a congregation are trying to be sensitive to that, encouraging everyone to seek the Lord for comfort.”
Ashley Cunnington, wife of Hucrest Community Church of God associate pastor, Rick Cunnington, reports that the smoke hasn’t hardly lifted from Roseburg, Oregon, for several weeks. “There are few places you can go in the state that aren’t being affected in some way by the fires,” she remarks. “We are praying for all the firefighters—and for rain. I never thought that, living in the Northwest, we would need to pray for more rain.”
Pastor Nate Jackson of First Church of God in Pendleton, Oregon, reports that
fire has come close, but no one in their congregation has suffered direct loss. Families and friends of church members have been effected—some even lost homes. “One relative of a guy in our church set out to help a friend, spent all day helping the friend [protect his property], but came home to find his own house had been burned down. It’s been really difficult.”
Sonya Allen, who grew up in the Church of God in Kansas and developed her faith under the leadership of Church of God Ministries’ Bob Moss—then pastor in Spokane, Washington—now lives in the mountains outside of Spokane. Her brush with these dangerous fires has taught her to rely more fully on the care and protection that only God can provide.
Her first evacuation came shortly after seeing the first plume of smoke rise to the southwest. After a sleepless night in Spokane, Sonya and her husband returned to disturbing reports and sights. As the haze settled in for the evening, airplanes continued to drop fire retardant, and the only thing clear was the need to evacuate again. No one had to tell Sonya it was time to get out quickly—the wall of fire looming over the property did that.
Upon return the following day, an eerie, other-worldly scene unfolded before their eyes. Ash, soot, and smoldering embers lined the roadway. Trees once emblematic of the Evergreen State were blackened and bare, if they were standing at all. All that was left of one neighbor’s home was the chimney. Making their way through a rock-cut in the road, they cautiously entered into their meadow. “The vegetation in the rock hollow was still burning, but the road was passable,” Sonya explains. “We held our breath as we emerged into our meadow, and the first thing I remember seeing was green. Everything had been black to this point, so it was very striking. Then we saw our house and realized that it, and our meadow, was still intact.” Other homes were destroyed, but their home was spared. Feelings of thanksgiving and gratitude ensued, but Sonya and her husband weren’t out of the woods yet.
Due to the overwhelming demand on firefighting resources across the West, the firefighters camped at Sonya’s property weren’t fighting the fire to extinguish it—they were simply seeking to protect property. The fire continued to creep up on every side, but Sonya remembers that “it seemed peaceful, and the firemen were on watch.” She continues, “I even debated if it was time for me to retire for the night. We walked to the garden area, about one hundred yards from the house, so we could see into the southeast corner of our property. While standing there watching, there was a huge flash beyond our house, and embers and flame shot up in the air twice as high as the highest tree, and it was dropping down into our yard everywhere. I ran and started stomping out embers. We have metal roofs, so I wasn’t worried about them, but there was so much dry grass, I just knew something was going to catch fire.”
“I stomped and stomped. Jeff, my son-in-law, was hosing everything down around the house. What we didn’t notice were the firemen who had come running when they saw the flash and were also checking for fire. They discovered that our maple tree, not fifty feet from the house, was on fire and burning.” Those firefighters were able to put that fire out and protect the house. The real miracle, however, involved—of all things—a set of jumper cables.
“About five minutes before the flare-up, a fireman had come into the yard, asking for a set of jumper cables,” Sonya explains. “Their fire truck wouldn’t start. We loaned them a pair, and he left to go back where they’d set up, about a half mile away…It was their shift change, and they were not allowed to stay past their allotted hours due to safety concerns and regulations. The coming shift had not yet arrived, but they had said that everything had been calm, so they planned to start down the canyon. If the fire truck had started the first time, they wouldn’t have been there. I had goosebumps knowing that God was watching over us.”
Sonya Allen’s life and property were protected. Many others are still being protected across the mountains of the West. Other homes are being swallowed up by the flames that continue to spread out of control. Rain and cooler weather are in the forecast for some, but not all locations. Prayers are desperately needed.
Pastor Warren urges the Church of God to unite in prayer: “Pray that the firefighters would get the upper hand on these fires. Pray that we would get the rain we need and for the weather to cool off. Pray for those who have lost their homes and for the families of the firefighters who lost their lives.”
Thank you for your prayers, Church of God!
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.