Hundreds of Church members returned to their homes recently, in the aftermath of fires that forced evacuations through much of northern Florida in early July.
While two member families lost homes in some of the state's worst wildfires, all Church members and missionaries are reported safe, said Jim Watkins, president of the Lake Mary Florida Stake, which was hit hardest.In Florida, more than 500,000 acres burned in nearly 2,000 fires that forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people, destroyed more than 300 houses and other buildings, and injured more than 100 people. Losses as a result of the fires exceeded $275 million.
All 420 members of the Bunnell Ward, Lake Mary Florida Stake, were evacuated July 2. An additional 25 or 30 families in the Daytona Beach Ward were also evacuated. Bishop Rick Singler of the Bunnell Ward said through the evacuation ordeal most members' spirits remained high. "The biggest concern was not knowing if their homes were burning up while they were not there," he said.
Bishop Singler reported that one member family's home did burn to the ground. In the Sanford Ward another member family lost their trailer home to the fires. Both families' immediate needs have been met.
Pres. Watkins added that several Church members were also significantly affected by the fires in terms of property and timber damage. In coming days and weeks, Pres. Watkins said members plan to work with the Red Cross, seeking out those in their community who need assistance. He noted that the Church has already donated bottled water, and new underwear and socks, to the out-of-state firefighters. He said the Church will also continue to help with humanitarian aid.
"I have been impressed with how the bishops have responded and taken care of problems locally - not just within the wards, but within the community," he said.