Wildfires have continued to spread across Northern California over the weekend. The devastating blaze, which has engulfed most of Shasta County, has so far claimed the lives of six people – including two grandchildren and their great-grandmother.
According to BBC.com, Melody Bledsoe, 70, Emily Roberts, five, and James Roberts, four, were all killed when they got caught up in the inferno as they attempted to escape their home in the city of Redding. CNN has reported that seven people are still missing. Initially, there were sixteen people confirmed missing, but nine of those have now been found safe, according to Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko.
As of Sunday morning, the fire was still only 5% contained and has already decimated at least 500 structures. The blaze became a “firestorm” on Thursday, jumping across the Sacramento River and heading toward Redding.
Meanwhile, firefighters are working around the clock in an attempt to suppress flames and prevent further devastation.
Cal Fire chief Ken Pimlott told reporters his crew was witnessing “fire whirls – literally what can be described as a tornado.”
“This fire was whipped up into a whirlwind of activity,” he said, adding that it was “uprooting trees, moving vehicles, moving parts of roadways.” California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, and President Trump has released federal aid to the counties affected.
Some 38,000 people have been evacuated from Shasta County, and the city of Redding is largely deserted. Faithwire caught up with a former Bethel Church student, who recounted her terrifying escape from the flames as they encroached on her place of work in downtown Redding.
“No one was coming in. You could see ambulances going by and homeless people wandering around empty parking lots. We already had almost half our staff call in that they needed to evacuate but stores were trying to stay open,” said Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry alumni, Emily Ables. “And then our power went out. So we left and driving home was wild – the gas stations were flooded with vehicles filling up and spilling out into the streets.”
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Well, in an extraordinary twist of events, the epicenter of the fire is also home to one of the most influential churches in America – Bethel. Known for its worship music and school of ministry, Bethel is perfectly placed to utilize its enormous resources to help the victims of the fire in their most desperate time of need.
Bethel Communications director Aaron Tesauro told Faithwire it had been a “whirlwind last few days,” but that the church was responding to the crisis with everything they have. The church is “running on less than half staff with many out of town,” he added.
A post from the church, which has almost half a million followers on Facebook, detailed how exactly people can help those stranded and stricken by the inferno:
“Thank you to everyone who has reached out and prayed with us for Shasta County in the midst of the Carr Fire. We want to update you on what Bethel has been doing and what Bethel will do moving forward as we continue to support our city. On Thursday, Bethel Global Response met with the Red Cross and City officials about how we could partner with their efforts in the city and communicated that we’d love for them to use our College View campus however they saw fit.
Due to our proximity to the fire and the limited accessibility of our College View campus, we are not a primary choice as an evacuation center. We wanted to meet the need, but had to do it safely and with permission. Instead, we were asked to assist with: providing supplies and volunteers to distribute food at the Shasta College Evacuation Center, search and rescue efforts, and staying available to City officials and other agencies for any needs.Today, however, we confirmed that starting Monday, July 30th, Bethel will become an official Distribution Hub for the Salvation Army at our College View campus (933 College View Dr.). Daily from 9am-7pm, we invite anyone impacted by the Carr Fire to come and grab supplies, meals and support:
-Household & Cleaning Supplies
-Baby Food, Diapers/Wipes
-Personal Hygiene Toiletries
-Water Bottles / Gatorade
-Non-Perishable Food Items
-Emotional & Spiritual Care
-Meals provided by Mercy Chefs starting Tuesday”
The director of Bethel Global Response, Jordan Pacilio, noted that this was “the first time we have provided disaster relief efforts while also being directly impacted by the disaster ourselves.”
You can sign up to be a volunteer heading here.
Bethel also has a support group set up on Facebook which is helping those affected by the fires coordinate relief efforts and keep each other safe by reporting the current direction of the flames. Amid the practical help and advice, there are some amazing stories of heroic firefighters, posted by their proud family members.
“Just wanted to post this picture of my oldest son Adam on the Carr Fire last night in the Whiskeytown Lake area. He is in the center of picture He was on the fire from the first day. His younger brother Jared is on duty at a fire station about 70 miles south of Redding, keeping that community safe,” Mark Mack posted to the page yesterday.
“I just wanted to “show a face” to represent all the crews out there and give an example of who you all are praying for. I am one extremely proud father!!!!”
Another staggering message posted to the group read:
“My name is Scott and I’m a marine corps veteran and offering my service in anyway I can help I am an owner operator with a Skip Loader and a 33’ trailer that can help in any way needed I live in Sacramento but have no problem traveling up to help if anyone is in need, from clearing debris to moving peoples belongings or if anyone needs any firebreaks made around their property.”
During his Sunday sermon, Bethel senior pastor Bill Johnson explained that upon returning home from a ministry trip in England, he discovered that he was unable to enter the area where his own home was located.
“I was notified that our house was probably gone,” he said. “But during one my flights I was able to get online and got a message from my wife saying it was still standing.”
Bill urged his congregation to serve those who were suffering at this time. “The big need of the hour is the pain of people around us, and to give adequate attention to that,” he said, before adding that “if your home was spared, remain thankful.”
“You don’t have to feel guilty if you have that,” he said.
One of those less fortunate was the Director of Bethel Music, Joel Taylor.
Joel took to Instagram to explain his family’s heartbreaking situation:
“We don’t want to miss the chance to just love and serve people,” Johnson noted in his powerful sermon, adding that he had “zero answers,” with regards to the spiritual reasons for the fire.
“I just know that God didn’t do it. He’s not the one who destroys,” he said.