Northern California wildfires forces Latter-day Saints to evacuate homes

Latter-day Saints living in wildfire-threatened areas of Northern California’s Sonoma County have become something of reluctant experts on responding to fires and other natural disasters.

It was just over two years ago that dozens of member homes in California’s Santa Rosa and Napa stakes were lost to wildfires. Many more Latter-day Saints were forced to evacuate.

Now a massive blaze — fueled by arid conditions and high winds — is again threatening thousands of structures in Northern California. Nearly 200,000 people were under evacuation orders Monday, Oct. 28, mostly from the city of Santa Rosa. 

And once again, local Church leaders stand ready to help.

Flames from a backfire, lit by firefighters to slow the spread of the Kincade Fire, burn a hillside in unincorporated Sonoma County, Calif., near Geyservillle on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. Authorities are fighting a Northern California blaze that forced evacuation orders and warnings for nearly all of Sonoma County stretching to the coast, with forecasts of strong winds prompting officials to start cutting electricity for millions of people in an effort to prevent more fires. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Flames from a backfire, lit by firefighters to slow the spread of the Kincade Fire, burn a hillside in unincorporated Sonoma County, Calif., near Geyservillle on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. Authorities are fighting a Northern California blaze that forced evacuation orders and warnings for nearly all of Sonoma County stretching to the coast, with forecasts of strong winds prompting officials to start cutting electricity for millions of people in an effort to prevent more fires. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) Credit: AP

“A large portion of our stake is under evacuation orders and our members are pretty scattered,” Santa Rosa California Stake President Gary Kitchen told the Church News on Monday.

Fortunately, all affected members and missionaries are safe and accounted for, he added.

The homes of Latter-day Saints living in the communities of Healdsburg, Windsor and northern Santa Rosa are in jeopardy, said President Kitchen.  Winds died down a bit on Monday, “and we’re hopeful there will be progress on the firefront today.”

The so-called Kincade Fire in Sonoma County has destroyed 96 structures and caused damage to 16 others. More than 4,000 fire personnel have been assigned to fighting the blaze, which was only 5 percent contained on Monday.

Meanwhile, millions in the region were without power at various times over the past few days after Pacific Gas & Electric cut off power to prevent electrical equipment from sparking more fires, the Associated Press reported.

A firefighter sprays water toward trees as crews work to control the Kincade Fire on Vinecrest Road in Windsor, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)
A firefighter sprays water toward trees as crews work to control the Kincade Fire on Vinecrest Road in Windsor, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope) Credit: AP

“There are a lot of us without power,” reported Napa California Stake President D. Shawn Barlow.

Power outages forced the cancellation Sunday, Oct. 27, of two ward sacrament meetings in the Napa stake.

The Church in Sonoma County is utilizing Santa Rosa’s Yulupa Avenue and Stony Point meetinghouses as shelters for anyone seeking refuge. Meetinghouses in Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol — along with the Santa Rosa stake center and the Badger Road building in Santa Rosa — are all located in evacuation areas and have been closed.

Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said the Church is providing basic supplies such as food wherever it’s needed during the evacuation period.

President Kitchen said he is grateful for seasoned local Relief Society and priesthood leadership in his stake during a difficult time of uncertainty and fear.

“We’ve been through this before,” he said. “That leads to experience and we know more about what to do in these situations.”

Wildfires are not isolated to the north end of the Golden State. Fire erupted early Monday on the west end of Los Angeles, where tens of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate.