You go in thinking the worst and hoping for the best.
What's being called the biggest fire in Oregon's history is still burning. The Biscuit Fire -- in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area of the Siskiyou National Forest -- was sparked July 13 by lightning.
“Most activity and the most concern for us is in the northern and western portions of the fire,” said Douglas Huntington, information officer for the Biscuit Fire. “We have several pre-evacuation notices listed for rural communities … when we tell them to go, they’ll need to be ready.”
The fire is burning in mixed conifer forest and brush, 26 miles southwest of Grants Pass, Ore. Several areas were threatened Tuesday: Galice, Agness, Wildreness Retreat, Gardner Ranch, Chatco Inn, Tolman Ranch and Pistol River.
About 471,087 acres were affected by Wednesday morning, but the fire was 50% contained. Hot, dry, weather engulfed the entire fire last week. Calm winds reduced fire activity, although outlying communities were inundated with smoke.
About 3,784 residences are threatened, and many residents have been reluctant to leave their homes.
“Always, when people are either told to leave -- or feel that they have to leave – there’s a lot of tension,” said Bud Crick, American Red Cross public information officer. “In this particular fire, there’s a number of very independent people who have been living off the land for a long time. They are very capable, but still, when you get a large conflagration like we have going, even thought they’re generally well prepared, they usually need help.”
Working in conjunction with the Red Cross was Gary Floyd, who coordinated onsite activities for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. He said a number of people stayed in their homes – instead of evacuating – but in the midst of protecting their homes from the fire, they forgot to stock up on food. Along with Red Cross workers, Southern Baptist workers transported food to some communities.
“It’s still pretty amazing that only about eight homes were damages,” Floyd said. “In wildfires, life kind of that way. You go in thinking the worst and hoping for the best.”
Southern Baptist volunteers prepared to serve 30,000 meals, but the highest count of one day was only 2,100. Floyd said volunteers, who were stationed at three locations around the fire, looked forward to helping.
“There is a certain amount of frustration because we were putting down equipment because we didn’t have to serve that many meals,” Floyd said. “We provide a service but that’s not the goal. The goal is to impact the lives of people and share with folks that God still loves and cares about them in the midst of these crises.”
Also serving meals were 10-member teams from Teen Impact. Teen Impact provides a one-year program to men and women coming out of drug and alcohol abuse. Members of a female team were nearing the end of their 10-day stint serving food to firefighters.
“They’re doing real well there,” said Pastor Jim Cottrell. “For many of them, who live nothing but a take lifestyle … to learn how to become a servant and more of a giver to the community is a big transition for them.”
Cottrell said preparing a large number of meals in over 100-degree temperatures make the work difficult.
“But they all feel positive about it because they realize they can do something that is good,” he said. “And the people they’re working with are absolutely enthralled with the hard work these young people are putting in.”
Members of the Illinois Valley Praise Center in Cave Junction – an area threatened by the fire – said the fire spared their town.
“In the first days when the fire was coming in people were scared,” said Pastor Douglas Wilson. “The fire was pretty bad – there were a lot of seasoned firefighters coming out of that saying it was bad.”
So 125-member congregation prayed, and Wilson said God answered their prayers.
“I believed God heard His people’s prayers when the wind changed and cooled down, and held that fire back until firefighters could get in there,” he said. “I think the firefighters and those folks did a bang up job. They just couldn’t have got it done without the Lord.”
By Wednesday, the cost of fighting the fire had risen to $84,500,000. About 6,607 personnel have been assigned to the fire.
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