SANTA ROSA, California
Deadly and destructive wildfires in Northern California have left Latter-day Saints dealing with a bevy of emotions.
First, there’s relief.
“All of our members [and missionaries] are safe — that’s the best news,” said Santa Rosa California Stake President Gary Kitchen.
But there’s also loss, fear and pain.
Thirty-three member homes were destroyed in the Santa Rosa California Stake. At least eight more were lost in the neighboring Napa California Stake.
“These fires happened so quickly and so dramatically,” said Napa stake president Kory Judd.
No Church-owned properties — including meetinghouses and the California Santa Rosa Mission home and office — were damaged, although at least two chapels were still without power on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
The wildfires were sparked on Sunday, Oct. 8, and were still burning three days later. At least 15 people were killed and more than 2,000 homes, business and other structures have been lost, reported USA Today.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in fire-threatened areas evacuated their homes, including many Mormon families.
“We’re still waiting for some of our member families to be able to return to their homes,” said California Ukiah Stake President Thomas Engstrom.
Power was out for several days in some areas and cell phone service has been spotty.
A volatile mix of dry grass, brush, heat, low humidity and wind gusts reaching almost 80 mph fueled the fires. Communities heavily impacted by the wildfires include Napa, Sonoma, Kenwood, the outskirts of Ukiah and the north and east sides of Santa Rosa.
Member families began offering assistance even as fire crews were battling the scattered blazes. “The members have responded magnificently,” said President Kitchen.
A high councilor from the Napa stake, for example, lost his home to the fires. Still, hours later, he was taking part in emergency stake meetings and looking for ways to help others in need.
“He just told us, ‘I can either sit down and feel sorry for myself — or get up and try to help others,’ ” reported President Judd.
Many Napa members traveled across impacted regions to deliver generators in areas left in the dark by outages. In Santa Rosa, meanwhile, members have been quick to deliver meals and offer shelter in their homes to any impacted by the disaster.
Four meetinghouses in the Santa Rosa stake were being used as a shelter.
“We’ve had a number of families, including members and people who are not members, staying at our buildings,” said President Kitchen.
It’s expected to take several days to gather a complete assessment of the impact on Mormon families and properties, he added. Once needs are identified, the members here are anxious to offer relief any way they can.