Wildfire forces Vacaville members from their homes as blazes burn across California

Several Latter-day Saint families are counted among the many Vacaville residents fleeing their homes Wednesday as a wildfire threatens their Northern California community amidst a blistering heat wave.

On Thursday, Aug. 20, Vacaville California Stake President Howard Haynes reported that fire had destroyed the homes of five Latter-day Saint families. The fate of several other member-owned homes is uncertain until further evacuation orders are lifted.

“We feel the worst is definitely behind us and we are continuing to assess our members’ needs,” he added.

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa California Stake President Gary Kitchen confirmed “we have fire in our stake again.” There were no early reports of Latter-day Saint homes lost, but some members of the Santa Rosa stake were evacuated.

President Haynes and his family fled their own house early Wednesday morning, Aug. 19, after police officers pounded on their door, telling them to evacuate. They found shelter in the home of a fellow Latter-day Saint family in the region.

The fast-moving wildfire threatening northwestern Vacaville was one of dozens burning Wednesday in the Golden State. The Vacaville fire is part of a multifire complex that has consumed more than 46,000 acres in three northern Bay Area counties  — Napa, Sonoma and Solano — since Monday, CNN reported.

An air tanker drops retardant as the LNU Lightning Complex fires tear through the Spanish Flat community in unincorporated Napa County, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
An air tanker drops retardant as the LNU Lightning Complex fires tear through the Spanish Flat community in unincorporated Napa County, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) Credit: AP

“Practically every single first responder unit in town is actively working to safely notify, evacuate and fight the fires, so our residents are safe,” police in Vacaville, a city of about 100,000 people between San Francisco and Sacramento, said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, in the nearby Fairfield California Stake, members were on high alert and ready to evacuate in the event shifting winds spread fire into their communities.

There are five wards in the Vacaville stake, “and we’ve got everybody checking on our members and reporting any problems,” said President Haynes. “We are all praying that things get under control without anyone losing their life and minimal loss of property.”

Two of the three Vacaville Stake meetinghouses are in evacuated neighborhoods. Their status was unknown Wednesday morning. The Alamo Creek Ward and the Browns Valley Ward are the units from the Vacaville stake that were in primary danger.

President Haynes said weather conditions in Vacaville in recent days dramatically increased wildfire potential. “It’s been hot and dry, and there have been lightning strikes.”

Wildfire, of course, has plagued Latter-day Saints and their neighbors in many regions of Northern California in recent years, but Vacaville had been spared until this week. 

But even in the early, frightening moments of Wednesday’s evacuations, President Haynes said he found comfort witnessing the selfless actions of stake members looking out for one another.

“Everyone was checking up on members by phone in affected areas and finding out about their needs, particularly with some of the elderly widows who needed help getting to safe places. It was remarkable to see.”

Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires burn in unincorporated Napa County, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The blaze went on to destroy multiple homes near Lake Berryessa. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires burn in unincorporated Napa County, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The blaze went on to destroy multiple homes near Lake Berryessa. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) Credit: AP

Fairfield California Stake President James Edman reported Wednesday that the winds had the full attention of everyone in his city, located southwest of Vacaville.

“If the wind doesn’t shift, I don’t think we will be impacted much,” he said. “I know of three Latter-day Saint families in my stake that were evacuated… Other areas have had evacuation warnings.”

Still, everyone in Fairfield is on high alert because of the unnerving fire volatility. 

“It’s so dry and hot here,” said President Edman, “and the winds can change so quickly.”

Meanwhile, 10 Latter-day Saint families from the Napa California Stake had been evacuated from their homes — seven from the east end of Napa and the others from the St. Helena Branch.

Napa California Stake President D. Shawn Barlow said the local Latter-day Saints are well prepared and willing to help one another if needed.

“You really come to appreciate the structure of the Church,” he said.