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Mormon churches shelter California fire victims; members assist those who lost homes (+video)

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Michael Short

Smoke rises as a wildfire burns in the hills north east of Napa, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through Northern California sending residents on a headlong flight to safety through smoke and flames as homes burned.

 

SALT LAKE CITY — Three Mormon meetinghouses in Northern California became shelters Monday for victims of the ferocious infernos that blazed through Wine Country on, killing 11 people and displacing tens of thousands.

One of the most destructive wildfire days in California history caused the loss of an estimated 1,500 homes and other buildings, including the homes of 30 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to local church leaders.

All missionaries and church members were accounted for and safe.

“Entire neighborhoods are burnt to the ground,” said Rolando Ampuero, second counselor in the church’s Santa Rosa Stake Presidency.

The threat is not over. Residents prepared in case the winds that fueled the blazes returned during the night.

“We’re on high alert,” Ampuero said late Monday. “In our neighborhood, we’re taking turns who goes to bed and who keeps an eye on our homes.” He is in Windsor, just 10 miles north of Santa Rosa’s hard hit areas.

LDS Church members not affected by the fires directly pitched in to help others. A group of Mormons fed breakfast and lunch to 200 people Monday at the Cloverdale Citrust Fairgrounds 30 miles north of Santa Rosa. They were scheduled to do the same on Tuesday, said Ukiah Stake President Thomas Engstrom. Other members fed evacuees at Ukiah High School or the Ukiah fairgrounds.

The fires had posed a significant threat to the California Santa Rosa Mission office and the Santa Rosa LDS Institute building, and the fires burned near three meetinghouses in the city, said Rick Koph, a local LDS spokesman. The area around the Peterson Lane building was evacuated and members who attended there Sunday had suffered devastating loses in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa. Flames destroyed block after block of the subdivsion.

Robert J. DeBry and Associates

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At least two other meetinghouses were used as staging areas for California fire victims and emergency responders on Monday.

CalFire chief Ken Pimlott said the estimate of 1,500 destroyed structure was conservative, according to USA Today.

“Imagine a wind-whipped fire burning at explosive rates,” Pimlott said. “This is 50 miles per hour. Literally it’s burning into the city of Santa Rosa … burning box stores.”

Fifteen new wildfires broke out in between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. They swallowed entire neighborhoods.

The Los Angeles Times published stunning side-by-side photos of the Coffey Park neighborhood. Every home and tree in the typical suburban area is burned to the ground. At least four homes of members were lost here in the inferno while other members kept watch after being evacuated.

LDS Church members lost 21-25 homes homes in Santa Rosa, Ampuero said. Another eight lost homes in Napa, according to a text from David Brown, a local church spokesman. Several more lost homes in each of the Ukiah and Auburn LDS stakes, according to the stake presidents.

“Most members displaced or evacuated have gone to two of our buildings in Santa Rosa,” Ampuero said.

The Yulupa Avenue building housed members from the Bennett Valley Ward, Brush Creek Ward and Rincon Valley Ward.

“Every room in the building is being used right now,” Ampuero said. “People need places to stay. We’re reaching out to people in the church who can house those displaced from their homes.”

The Stony Point Ward building took in members from the Stony Point Ward, Peterson Lane Ward and Laguna Spanish-speaking Ward.

A third meetinghouse, the Foothill Park Ward, is housing elderly people evacuated from a nearly senior living facility, Ampuero said.

Farther north, church members opened Highlands Ward Chapel to displaced people in Clearlake, where they fed two meals to a dozen people, all of whom found places to stay with friends or at motels on Monday night.

The same winds that torched Northern California charred Southern California as well.

In Anaheim, the Canyon No. 2 Fire destroyed one LDS Church member’s home and damaged another. The LDS Church’s Newport Boulevard Building in the Orange Stake became a staging area for the sheriff’s department.

The Anaheim East Stake Center in Anaheim Hills housed displaced people through much of the day, but no one remained overnight, said President Charles Flake. He said local church leaders rallied to the stake center by 9:30 a.m. on Monday. By noon, they had accounted for every member of the congregation in the evacuation zone.

“It was a great successa as far as emergency response goes,” Flake said.

All missionaries in the area were safe and accounted for.

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