United Methodists are at work in Paradise, CA, where survivors of last month’s wildfires are putting their lives back together.
Communications, CAL-NV Conference
Heading north on CA-99 from West Sacramento, California on Saturday (Nov. 17), Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, Episcopal leader for the San Francisco Area of The United Methodist Church, Jorge Domingues, Director of Connectional Ministries for the California-Nevada Annual Conference, and I saw little evidence, at first, of the inferno that has killed at least 76 people and scattered more than 10,000 households. We could smell it, though: even with windows up and the car air conditioner set on “internal,” the smoke invaded our vehicle, as strong and acrid as if we were standing beside a bonfire.
We were heading to Chico, to check in with Conference Disaster Response Director Sonja Edd-Bennett at the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC), before joining a gathering of area pastors at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, organized for discussion of the Camp Fire’s impact and to take a stab at generating a needs assessment. We would be overwhelmed at both locations – by the enormity of the disaster, the scope of the need, and the bountiful nature of God’s provision.
The DRC opened Friday, Nov. 16 in the vacant Sears space in the Chico Mall – eight days after the fire destroyed the town of Paradise. When we arrived a day later the DRC was still overrun with individuals and families signing up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and then making their way from table to table, seeking basic services – sometimes with pets in tow. The situation is not expected to change for the foreseeable future.
There were cartons of water outside the entry door, but no one distributing it, as far as we could see. Inside, we were greeted by a sign at the FEMA tables advertising DNA matching for the missing. The scene was chaotic and surreal.
People were calling out numbers and repeating them, and I thought at first that someone had organized a bingo game to provide people with a distraction while they waited to be helped. But no – nothing that commonplace, that “belonging to a sane world.” I finally realized that some agencies were using raffle tickets to track who was next in line to be served.