UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Western Wildfires 'Profound Disaster' For Many

When a home is destroyed by fire, often there are no salvageable items left.
When a home is destroyed by fire, often there are no salvageable items left.
Myranda Hoffman

By Susan Kim*

July 10, 2012 – UMCOR is responding to wildfires that have destroyed a growing number homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate throughout the western US. In Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and other states, churches are offering immediate care for evacuees even as they gather resources for long-term recovery.

UMCOR has issued $10,000 emergency grants to the Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and New Mexico annual conferences.

Fire – unlike hurricanes and tornadoes – often leaves behind nothing that is salvageable within a destroyed home, reflected Gordon Knuckey, an UMCOR consultant who, from his Fort Collins home, can see the glow of one of Colorado's largest fires.

In that state, the High Park fire consumed 259 homes, while the Waldo Fire – one of the most destructive in Colorado's history – destroyed 346 homes.

“After a fire, people have a very small chance of finding anything that is not destroyed,” he said. “There is usually just nothing.”

But that doesn't mean fire survivors need material donations such as used clothing, emphasized Knuckey and other responders. Instead, monetary donations enable items to be purchased locally as needs rapidly change.

Fire survivors' unmet needs will be brought to the table of long-term recovery committees, many of which are newly forming as United Methodists join with other faith-based and voluntary agencies, as well as state emergency officials.

“Right now one of the biggest efforts is getting in touch with local pastors,” said Gary Haddock, disaster response coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference.

In New Mexico, where the Little Bear Fire destroyed or damaged at least 224 homes, the newly formed Little Bear Recovery Team has opened a center at which fire survivors can receive help. Within this ecumenical effort, United Methodists are leading a case management process under which more than 90 cases were opened on behalf of fire survivors as of early July.

“We are seeing many people who are uninsured or underinsured,” said Vernon Baker, a United Methodist disaster response coordinator who has been helping to lead the New Mexico response.

In early July, Montana led the nation in the number of large wildfires burning. The Dahl Fire, south of Roundup, destroyed 73 homes, and the Ash Creek Fire, on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, has destroyed at least 16 homes.

Meanwhile, hot spots continue to flare up as record drought lingers over a large portion of the US. 

“The heat is so intense that the fires literally ignite the inside of the house,” said Knuckey. “It's a profound disaster.”

Help UMCOR continue to respond to the western US wildfires. Please contribute to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.

* Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to umcor.org.

Help UMCOR continue to respond to the western US wildfires. Please contribute to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.