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Assessing needs in AZ

BY SUSAN KIM | PHOENIX, AZ | June 30, 2002

Spiritual care was the focus in Arizona as anger grew when a part-time fire fighter was arrested for setting the huge blaze that destroyed more than 400 homes.

Even as faith-based groups kept assessing needs in Arizona, wildfires in the Dakotas were forcing evacuations and destroying homes.

Church World Service (CWS) has sent a representative to assess short- and long-term needs in fire-stricken Arizona. CWS will be working directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross, along with other groups of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster coalition.

CWS will assess potential long-term unmet needs and faith community

involvement for both remaining evacuees and those who lost homes and belongings. CWS will also assess possible requests for spiritual and emotional care support.

Meanwhile in Deadwood, SD thousands fled a wildfire Sunday. The 700-acre blaze had destroyed 10 homes as of Sunday morning. Many of the evacuees are tourists. In North Dakota, the tiny town of Shields, home to 15 people, was destroyed by another fire.

While about 25,000 of Arizona's 30,000 evacuees went home Saturday, those from the hardest hit community of Heber-Overgaard did not. Of the 423 homes that have been burned, at least 200 are in that community. Many are unsure whether their homes survived.

Residents returned to Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside, and Hon-Dah.

The Rodeo-Chediski fire was 45 percent contained Monday morning. It was still burning out of control and threatening some 600 more homes Saturday. It was still edging toward the subdivision of Forest Lakes, some 40 miles west of Show Low. The fire was within two miles of the evacuated community Friday.

Meanwhile a 71,000-acre blaze near Durango, CO was 30 percent contained and had burned at least 57 homes.

Firefighters and residents alike need prayers, said faith leaders.

"Please maintain your fervent prayers of support," said Gil Furst of Lutheran Disaster Response. "Pray for the firefighters on the front line, who work long hours in perilous locations. Pray for the thousands who must evacuate their homes, not know to what situation they will return."

Monetary contributions to responding groups are a highly recommended way to help, according to responders.

The hard-hit community of Heber-Overgaard has lost its senior center, feed store, and many other community mainstays.

According to Forest Service officials, of nearly 400 homes and businesses destroyed, more than 200 were in Heber-Overgaard. About 3,500 people live in the community year-round, although the summer population can swell to 10,000.

At the Pinecrest Lakes RV Park, home to many retirees, an estimated 168 of the 200 mobile homes were destroyed.

The fire season is still young. The ten-year average for acreage burned in the western U.S. is roughly 985,000 acres per year, pointed out Peter J. Van Hook, a disaster response and recovery liaison with the CWS emergency response program. "So far in 2002 the fires have burned 2.6 million acres, with most of the fires still out of control," he said.

"Furthermore, the fire season has just begun -- that is, the heat of the summer and the summer thunderstorms are yet to come."

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