Rebuild continues after ’07 fires

Faith-based organizations rebuilding lives and homes following 2007’s wildfire season.

BY ZACHARY HOFFMAN | SAN DIEGO, CA | September 20, 2009

"It seems like a little thing to go out there with weed-whackers and hedge-trimmers, but for these people it’s a huge thing"

—Bret Lamsma, Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Ripon, CA

“It’s going to take years,” Teresa Manley predicted two years ago in reference to the recovery efforts for the wildfires that scorched 500,000 acres and destroyed 2,000 Southern California homes in 2007. Manley had been involved in the interfaith long-term recovery from the 2003 wildfires.

Now three years later, many homes still need to be rebuilt, and this year’s fires in California will add yet more work for voluntary organizations that have been actively working to restore homes and other facilities.

“Current fires happening now are no doubt making more work for the future,” said Kevin King of Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS).

MDS has run into many challenges in rebuilding efforts, waiting on damage assessments and insurance payouts. The most recent setback is due to new California building code enforcement.

King said, “We are finding out that all the houses we’re building now all need sprinkler systems.”

MDS has five house projects in Dulzura and two more in Ramona that they hope to resume in October and project finishing by March.

Other faith-based organizations have also been very involved in the recovery process from the 2007 fires.

Over the past few months four different Christian Reformed Churches have coordinated with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) to offer their assistance in San Diego.

Bret Lamsma, pastor of youth at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Ripon, CA, took 13 high school students to San Diego to work with people who lost homes and to clear brush and other burnable materials within 10-feet of resident’s homes.

“It seems like a little thing to go out there with weed-whackers and hedge-trimmers, but for these people it’s a huge thing,” said Lamsma. “One woman couldn’t move back into her home until it was done, and it would have taken her months to do what we did in a day and a half.”

Titus Davis said, “When you go visit a place and see what’s left of a house and a foundation after what goes through and you see wheels melted into the ground and glass melted into puddles, it’s something else.”

Davis and his wife took a group to Dulzura, CA, from Granite Springs Christian Reformed Church in Lincoln, CA, in March.

“Most recently,” said Art Opperwall of CRWRC, “We had a group go out from Acadia, California, from a Korean Christian Reformed Church, Salt and Light Church."

Members of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church in Solana Beach, CA, are dismayed that hundreds of people in Ramona, CA, are still struggling to rebuild from 2007, and they are determined to help.

Larry Muschek of Solana Presbyterian said around 400 families lost their homes in the Ramona area alone, and “pretty soon we had 35 or 40 families to work with.”

Some families are still living in campers and travel trailers; Solana found their niche building storage sheds for these people to help with the limited space a camper offers. Now they can store tools and equipment to help them start rebuilding on their property.

Solana has partnered with Rancho Bernardo Presbyterian Church, North Coast Calvary Community Church and Oceanside Presbyterian to build 30 sheds in the past few years, and they have one more to go.

“As long as there are families that still need work done, we have put days on the calendars and notified our volunteers,” said Muschek.

The United Church of Christ (UCC) partnered with Church World Service (CWS) to provide 500 backpacks to Native American populations with items like flashlights to be assembled as evacuation kits for elderly and small children.

Funding was also provided through UCC to purchase generators to sustain food and cold storage medications in the case of power outages.

“None of their wires are underground, they’re all overhead,” said Florence Coppola of UCC. “They’ll be able to keep medications for the elderly and a lot of people who have diabetes.”

Related Topics:

'Heartbreaking' CA wildfire ministry

Perfect storm leads to conflagration

Church welcomes vulnerable

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