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Churches mobilize to help during fire efforts


Last updated 11/8/2007 at Noon

During the stressful week of the Fallbrook (Rice Canyon) Fire, amidst strong Santa Ana winds, smoke and devastation, local churches efficiently mobilized their members into action to help the community, firefighters and members of the military.

Patrick Herrell, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel and Regional Sheriff’s Chaplain for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, played an instrumental role during the firestorm.

“Sunday night [October 20], as the events began to unfold about the fires and the possible intrusion of those fires into the Fallbrook area, as a sheriff’s chaplain I was allowed to be in the command post during the entire operation for Fallbrook,” explained Herrell. “I was able to establish a network of communication with the pastors in the community whose contact phone numbers I had and I gave them updates.”

These updates gave other faith leaders in the community information about the fires, where the flames were headed and quadrants that were being evacuated. Church membership directories would be used to determine which church members were being affected.

“If there were elder members of their fellowship in the area who were struggling to evacuate quickly, [the church] could send someone to assist them,” Herrell said.

Prior to the evacuation being lifted in Fallbrook, Herrell received authorization from the command post to bring some of his staff members from Calvary Chapel back into Fallbrook so they could gather imperative “after-the-fire” information, such as phone numbers, maps and Web sites, for the other churches.

Herrell also received permission to get the church leaders back to Fallbrook before the evacuation lift. Each pastor who was able to return early was briefed by Herrell and presented with a packet of “after-fire” information.

While Fallbrook was being repopulated, Herrell began speaking with Samaritan’s Purse. “[They] contacted me because they knew I was coordinating with the churches about their relief efforts,” Herrell explained.

Samaritan’s Purse, in existence since 1970, is overseen by Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. The organization has chosen to provide disaster relief in Fallbrook, Herrell said. It is providing the “know how” and equipment.

In addition to Calvary Chapel, churches that have linked arms with Samaritan’s Purse include St. Peter’s Catholic, Fallbrook Presbyterian, Riverview Evangelical, North Coast, Christ The King Lutheran and Fallbrook First Baptist.

“Samaritan’s Purse is open to any church that wants to participate,” said Herrell, “and anyone can be a volunteer.”

“Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational international relief organization,” explained Karen Keller, program manager for the organization’s Fallbrook location. “We are helping to clean up the debris for the fire victims. We will also sift through the fire debris to find small items that can be salvageable.”

At present, the Red Cross has a shelter at St. Peter’s. “If people don’t have a place to stay, they can stay here,” said Father Bud Kaicher.

While Fallbrook Presbyterian is providing clothing to victims, St. Peter’s is assisting in the food efforts.

“We have been distributing a lot of food and we will continue to do that as long as there is a need,” Kaicher said. “Different organizations, groups and churches have made this possible.”

Kaicher said his church has been responding to the community needs in three ways: finding shelter for families in need, connecting people who need assistance at the Fallbrook Community Center and continuing to help fire victims once the agencies leave.

“We are also keeping a database of folks who are willing to offer their homes and volunteer as the needs arise,” he added.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) continues to put forth substantial effort in helping to clean up Fallbrook after the fire.

“The disaster assistance was approved in Salt Lake City and trucks with five-gallon clean-up kits, along with masks, gloves and t-shirts, were brought down,” said Skip Curtis, a member of the High Council of the Vista Stake.

On Monday, October 29, this church was represented by 350 youth, 120 adults and 50 full-time missionaries as they mobilized to clean up various sites. Each volunteer was given a bright yellow t-shirt that read “Mormon Helping Hands.”

Some groups cleaned up properties and helped with homes, while others distributed the clean-up kits. Church volunteers have taken some 23 work orders for large projects.

During the fire, Zion Lutheran Church and School contributed significantly to the firefighters and military, who welcomed the hot showers, a place to rest and a chance to watch some television.

“On Tuesday, we had 170 members of the National Guard here,” said Pastor Mark Demel. “They slept in the pews of our sanctuary.”

Zion estimates that during the week of the firestorm, 2,000 showers were taken and about 3,000 meals were served at the church.

Once the word got out that Zion was offering shelter, food donations from Major Market, the sheriff’s substation, Albertsons and La Caseta Mexican Restaurant started to pour in.

“The National Guard nicknamed us ‘Mission Operation Fat Soldier,’” said Demel. “They were so appreciative.”

The Fallbrook Seventh Day Adventist Church in Rainbow stepped up to help the community and firefighters as well during the fire, which came very close to the church but, thankfully, did not destroy the property.

“People donated generators and we were able to whip up meals for the firefighters and let them use our bathrooms all week long,” said Pastor Gerald Jones.

Members of their church, especially those residing in Temecula and Murrieta, he said, gathered donations from Vons, Costco, El Pollo Loco and Marie Callender’s.

“All these places donated food and drinks,” said Jones. “The gas station down the street gave us gas for our generators.”

The Fallbrook Church of Christ continues their help with those adversely affected by the Rice Canyon Fire by offering boxes of food to sustain families. The food boxes are designed to feed four people for up to six days.

They also have blankets and tools such as rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows.

This faith organization has been working with North County CERT, Rainbow Volunteer Fire Department and the Red Cross throughout Rainbow and East Fallbrook. To inquire about food box availability, call (760) 728-3900.

Churches in the community have repeatedly stepped forward in this time of need – from assisting emergency workers with shower facilities and meals to helping residents recover from the effects of the fire. Once again, local faith organizations have demonstrated their dedication to the members of the community.


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