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CA fires threaten nearly 5,000 homes

Local churches work to find ways to assist evacuating residents and those whose homes have burned


As wildfires threatened nearly 5,000 homes in California, faith communities are helping residents forced to evacuate and religious leaders are trying to help those impacted make sense of it all.

The Felton Presbyterian Church offered its showers to firefighters trying to contain a blaze in heavily forested Santa Cruz Mountains, but instead the parking lot has been become a staging area for horse trailers and the equine rescue efforts.

“They went about rescuing horses,” said Rev. Ed Snedeker, of the equine rescue units.

Felton, a community of about 6,000, is now buzzing with emergency responders, both horseback and by fire trucks, as they try to contain the blaze, which started Wednesday. Flying tankers have also flown over the town, en-route to their drop zones.

The fire was about 25 percent contained as of Friday afternoon, aided by favorable fire fighting conditions.

“The low winds have helped firefighters get a hold of it,” said Snedeker.

About 1,500 residents in Bonny Doon, a community of a few thousand residents about 10 miles from Felton, via winding mountain roads, have been told to evacuate.

Snedeker met with the Rev. Dr. John Burke, the minister of the Bonny Doon Presbyterian Church. Friday, Burke who lives in Santa Cruz, about 10 miles southwest of Felton, found his way to Bonny Doon, about seven miles from Felton, and witnessed the devastation that claimed 10 homes across an area of 600 acres.

“We had some real close calls,” said Burke.“The firefighters stopped (the fire) across the street.” And a parishioner’s home was threatened but saved by firefighters.

Burke, a clinical psychologist, plans this Sunday to try to make it a day where people can talk about the emotional trauma of coping with the fire.

“People grabbed their pictures off the wall, their animals and left,“ he said. “People are in shock.”

In Felton, the American Red Cross opened a shelter in a middle school to help those needing a place to stay. The forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, part of the coastal range which separates California’s vast Central Valley from the Pacific Ocean, is populated with redwoods and oaks.

And the fire near Bonny Doon and Felton comes a few weeks after another fire destroyed about three dozen homes nearby. Although California often has wildfires, the Rev. Randy Kay, of the Felton Bible Church, said this area has been immune to fires until recently.

“We haven’t had many fires in a long time,” he said.

Another fire near Chico, northeast of Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, was about 15 percent contained Friday after burning about 31 square miles and forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 people. That fire destroyed about 40 buildings in Butte County and threatened more than 4,500 other buildings.

By Thursday evening, a fire burning in the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County that consumed about 29 square miles, was nearly 40 percent contained.

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