Colorado wildfires prompt closures, evacuations for mission agencies
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (ANS) – The fast-moving Waldo Canyon Wildfire last week forced the evacuation of more than 32,000 people and prompted calls for prayer by at least three mission organizations in Colorado Springs, Colo.
One of the Colorado fires blazing in the distance.
(Courtesy Duane Birkey, Ed Giesbrecht, HCJB Global)
Ralph Kurtenbach of HCJB Global, says both his organization, The Navigators and Compassion International in the city’s northwestern sector all saw ministry operations affected by the fire that started on Saturday, June 23.
Kurtenbach cites an internal memo to HCJB Global staff worldwide, in which President Wayne Pederson described the view from his corporate office facing the front range of the Rocky Mountains on Tuesday.
“We watched the fire leap over the ridge and make a rapid descent down the mountain with 65-mph winds driving the fire downward,” detailed Pederson.
Kurtenbach says that authorities soon established the street next to HCJB Global’s Ministry Service Center as an evacuation route. This prompted a two-day (Wednesday and Thursday) closure of the mission’s offices on Garden of the Gods Rd.
“The office closed for two days because of mandatory evacuation restrictions,” said Dick Jacquin, a special assistant to the president.
“The office is in the evacuation zone, within two miles of many of the houses that were destroyed. On Wednesday the smoke was horrible. All the roads were closed in the area of the office to allow emergency equipment free access.”
Meanwhile, says Kurtenbach, The Navigators evacuated corporate facilities at Glen Eyrie, establishing temporary offices at Focus on the Family’s campus.
“The fire was dancing around our properties,” said Gary Cantwell, chief communications officer of The Navigators on Tuesday, June 26.
“On Saturday (June 23) we were ordered by the fire marshal to evacuate everyone from Eagle Lake Camp, Glen Eyrie and from our international and U.S. headquarters.”
Pete Jenik and Harold Goerzen were among at least four HCJB Global staff members given mandatory fire evacuation orders on Tuesday afternoon with flames racing down the eastern foothills of Pikes Peak, as described by Pederson.
Jenik, vice president of personnel, said that in his neighborhood “Ute Valley Park could light up because of all the dry grass.” Senior Editor Goerzen and his wife, Linda, described the surreal hours late Tuesday and early Wednesday at their hosts’ home, viewing televised images of the fire’s destruction.
Goerzen recalled a sick feeling while “we watched the news coverage of dozens of houses engulfed in flames, blazing like torches in the darkness. Could one of those buildings be ours?” Live satellite images later in the week indicated that the flames came within a block of the Goerzens’ residence.
Kurtenbach says that media reports claim that in addition to forcing 32,000 evacuations, the Waldo Canyon Wildfire burned an estimated 347 homes in fires that swept through the area in just under three hours.
Two persons died in the blaze, and about 10 were reported missing.
Kurtenbach says that none of the homes owned by HCJB Global staff members were damaged or destroyed, but they could still be in jeopardy as the wildfire remains active with hundreds of firefighters battling the inferno and dozens of aircraft dropping water and fire retardant.
“It appears as if The Navigators’ property also came through the fire nearly unscathed, but that could change if the winds increase or change direction.”
Kurtenbach goes on to say that both the physical and emotional impact of the fire on Compassion International has been severe.
“When [the fires] merged, they came over the hill and into the valley where a lot of our homes are,” reported Compassion’s Kathy Redmond. The smoke was thick at our headquarters. Most staff members have been working from home, but for some, that’s not an option.
“We have staff members who know they have lost their homes,” Redmond related.
“Others think they have lost their homes; we’re just not sure. Of course [many] staff members have had to evacuate and move to the homes of friends, hotels or churches.”
She urges believers to “pray for peace and special protection for the staff and headquarters of Compassion and all other affected ministries in Colorado Springs. Pray that this disaster would not hinder the great works God is doing through these organizations which are dedicated to spreading the love of Christ around the world.”
When Fire Forces You Away From Home
Waldo Canyon fire as seen from the
Focus on the Family Building
Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, writes that if you had only a few minutes to gather up a few select treasures of your life before fleeing a raging inferno, what would you take — and what would you leave behind?
“Families in Colorado Springs were faced with this very question this past Tuesday. In just a matter of minutes, a wildfire that had been contained in canyons bordering the city swept down through the hillsides. The sky, which had been sunny, turned red. Ash and cinders rained down for miles in every direction,” Daly said.
One of Daly’s colleagues, Paul Batura, who was on vacation and painting inside his house in the affected area, said the scene appeared apocalyptic.
“After securing our three little boys,” he wrote, “we ran from room to room. Some dear friends from a mile away appeared like angels on our doorsteps, and assisted with the mad dash. A few boxes of pictures, a wedding album, keepsakes from the boys’ births, and a file drawer of family records was all time allowed us to gather. In a flash we were gone as our street became enveloped in smoke. Eleven years of marriage and our respective and collective lives reduced to what two cars could carry.”
More than 32,000 people were evacuated from their neighborhoods in Colorado Springs Tuesday afternoon of last week, Daly said.
“Where Jean and I live, is still out of the line of fire, but our neighbors to the west are not so fortunate. More people are expected to be evacuated and impacted by nightfall. Focus on the Family, if you’re wondering, is also not under any evacuation order.”
Daly asks: “What does it do to a person to flee their home from a raging fire with only minutes to spare? To listen to those who have done so is to be reminded that it does quite a lot, especially force one to prioritize.
“You’re reminded again what’s most important,” one of the evacuees reflected. “Life can change in an instant. We might think we know what lies beyond sight, but we don’t.”
Daly says tragedy of this kind is shocking and devastating, of course, but it’s not a new development.
“Scripture reminds us that the rain falls on the just and unjust, and there is often no explanation what the Lord allows some people to suffer more (or so it seems) than others,” he said.
Daly says the city of Colorado Springs is in mourning as hundreds of families are faced with the reality of coming “home” to a pile of smoldering embers.
He cites the story of Paul, who is still unsure of his family’s housing fate, was lying awake last night, his emotions ravaged and raw, wondering what was happening just a few miles away.
“As he watched the news video, he said, of the houses being consumed by fire, he was reminded of what his late mom used to say: ‘Anyone can build a house of wood or stone, but it takes love to build a home.’”
Daly commented: “As a body of believers, we may feel bruised at times, but with Jesus by our side, ‘we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed,’ (2 Cor 4:8-9).”
“Please join me in praying for all the victims of this fire and the many others who are facing similar challenges all around the country.”
Fire closes in on a Colorado Springs home
(Courtesy Thomas Graham, COMD).
“The Waldo Canyon fire is the one that has really decimated our area,” says Thomas M. Graham, Ph. D., of The Center for Organization and Ministry Development www.comd.org , in an e-mail to ASSIST News.
COMD is a resource and support organization serving the Christian community. The mission of the Center is to facilitate and assist ministries of organizations and individuals in advancing the kingdom of God throughout the world. The organization offers services to churches, denominations, mission agencies, and individuals that frequently are not available within their own organizations.
“So far, 17,000 acres burned and 32,000 residents evacuated from their homes. 1,300 firemen are fighting the fire,” he said.
“Our turn came last Tuesday afternoon. We had some bags packed for several days before, so when the order came we quickly loaded the car and left. The pictures show you how our street looked as we left hurriedly. You can imagine with as many people evacuating that traffic was congested and space to stay at a premium,” said Graham.
“We ended up going clear to Denver where we stayed overnight with an old friend from my college days. Only today did we get back to Colorado Springs. So far 346 homes have burned and 2 people are dead. About 10,000 are still evacuated, including us. Tomorrow some will be allowed to visit their homes temporarily. We are not yet included in that number. Since there was a disruption in utilities, those things have to be checked carefully.”
Graham said power lines are down and gas lines shut off.
“Before people can move back in someone from the Utility department has to accompany you to check the gas. So, we have a lot to be thankful — at least we have a home to go to. Even though the loss was heavy, 81 percent of the homes in the burned area were saved, though some have suffered some damage.”
In Minnesota, Care Director Prays for Coloradans
Meanwhile, Susan Thompson, Director of Care Ministries at Ridgewood Church in Minnetonka, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul, owns with her husband Larry a single-family ranch-style home in Coal Creek Canyon, just north and west of Denver.
The Flagstaff Fire as seen from The Thompson’s property near Golden, CO.
“The closest towns are Boulder and Golden (our mailing address there is Golden). It is a single family ranch-style home with three bedrooms and two baths and a HUGE garage with workbench! We have a beautiful deck that overlooks what are known as the ‘Flat Irons’ and to the north we can see Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. We purchased the home in the fall of 2010. It is valued at $275,000,” Thompson told ANS.
“As of last week, the fire closest to us (the one that you can see in the photo) is the Flagstaff Fire — not sure of the distance in terms of miles,” she said.
“Our neighbors informed us our area was not in any imminent danger, unless the winds shifted direction. Currently, we do not feel any threat, as the Flagstaff Fire seems to now be well-controlled.”
“Fortunately, we have a renter living in the property. He loves the home and cares well for it. He is the one who took the photo from the deck,” Thompson said.
“Our nearest neighbor, who is also a real estate broker, provides property management for us — collecting rent, navigating any issues that come up, such as needed repairs.”
As far as what the Thompsons have been told about the Colorado fires, their property manager keeps them updated via email.
“My husband Larry has dreamed of owning a home in Colorado for years. We have vacationed there and each of us has spent a fair amount of time there over the years. Although we are not in total agreement about this (LOL), his intent is for us to retire and live there full-time. Larry also hopes to make some significant modifications to the home, including finishing the basement, so that we have room for our kids and grandkids to come visit – ski, etc.,” Thompson said
She added: “I am greatly saddened by the tremendous property loss. So many families have lost their homes and ‘home’ has some an important emotional attachment for all of us. I am, however, grateful that there was not a significant loss of lives (while every life is precious beyond measure, very few died as a result of the fires) .
“Tragedy of all kinds can provide opportunities for people to come together in compassionate ways, that reflect the goodness of God and the love of Christ. I trust that will be the case with these fires — opportunity to bring healing and a measure of God’s love and grace to those who are hurting and grieving their losses.
“The fires also serve to remind me of God’s sovereignty. He alone is ruler over nature and its forces. Because of my faith in God and His desire for my best, I have never had any particular worry or concern over losing the property. He will prevail!”
Given the tendency for Colorado to experience wildfires, if the Thompsons lose their property in Colorado, will they still relocate there?
“I think it is doubtful,” said Thompson. “The recent rash of fires has given us an opportunity to think ‘what if,’ and I believe some serious thought would need to be given to whether or not we would still relocate.”
What would she like to say to the folks in Colorado who have lost their homes?
“Our hearts go out to you, and our thoughts and prayers are with you. Our God is a God of hope and restoration. I trust that you will find Him faithful to meet each and every need and that in time you will be able to look back and see His plan in even this!”
Thompson concluded: “We are grateful we were able to purchase fire insurance for our home! Because our property is in a known ‘fire zone,’ we had to wrangle with seven different insurance companies before finding adequate coverage. Now we understand why!”
Waldo Canyon Fire Assistance Fund
On its website, The Navigators thanks believers across the US for their concern over the last week in light of the devastating wildfires that ravaged parts of Colorado Springs and the nearby mountains—including parts of their Eagle Lake Camp property.
“While many of our losses will be covered by insurance, we anticipate uncovered needs among our staff and impacted facilities, including some whose homes have been lost.”
The organization has established a special fund http://my.navigators.org/fire to help them respond quickly to the needs created by this crisis.
“We trust fully in our God and His power to use these circumstances to help us advance the Gospel of Jesus as we press on to live and disciple among the lost. Thank you again for your partnership with us,” the organization said.