Three homes of Church members are among the more than 800 homes destroyed by the deadliest wildfires in Australia’s history this February, according to a Church Welfare report.
No members or missionaries were injured in the fires, which claimed the lives of more than 180 people, left 5,000 people homeless, and burned 1,100 square miles (2,850 square kilometers) of land — the majority of which is located in Australia’s southeastern state of Victoria. However, numerous member families were evacuated by the fires, which did not damage any Church property.
Blazes had been burning for weeks in the area, but turned deadly Feb. 7 when scorching temperatures and high winds created a fire storm that swept across the region. Experts predict the death toll will rise to near 300 as authorities are able to search devastated areas.
“Shifting winds blowing at or near 60 mph fanned the flames into furnace-like conditions and made it nearly impossible to know which direction to run from the flames,” said Elder John Larsen, area welfare specialist for the Church’s Pacific Area, which includes Australia.
Elder Larsen said the fire situation began to improve Feb. 9 when extreme temperatures and winds tempered. “This is a direct answer to the prayers of many,” he said.
Local priesthood leaders, he said, have been in contact with government agencies and the Red Cross to determine what type of humanitarian aid from the Church would be of greatest worth. He said members are being asked to “pray for those affected by the disaster, and to ask the Lord to temper the elements to limit further destruction.”
Further, he said, local members have been giving blood, which is in high demand by the burn victims.
Because government officials have “declared the fire zones a crime scene due to their suspicion of arson, in some cases,” Elder Larsen said they are not allowing any clean-up work to begin. However, he added, “priesthood leaders are organizing for cleanup crews to render ‘helping hands’ service once the areas are opened and residents are allowed to return to their homes.”