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Update on Colorado wildfires
JUNE 28 UPDATE: Read a blog from Pastor Wayne Uhlhorn about how the wildfires are now affecting Colorado Springs.
A massive wildfire is burning in the Waldo Canyon just west of Colorado Springs and has forced the evacuation of the Rev. James Seiltz and his family as well as other members at Salem Lutheran Church, located on the city's northwest side. Fire officials say 26,000 people have been evacuated, and more than 1,000 firefighters are battling the blaze that has consumed more than 15,000 acres in the canyon.
Seiltz says, "Every day the fire is growing by thousands of acres. The fire is located within 3 miles of Salem church and my home. The air quality is very bad. So we decided to leave our home late last night [June 26], and we are staying in the home of one of our members on the southeast side of Colorado Springs. The biggest threat right now is the burning embers that can be thrown up to one half mile or more. It is not the fire burning on the ground; it is the embers setting the roofs on fire."
Communication is difficult in the area, and Seiltz is trying to reach other Salem members who have been evacuated from their homes. "I do not have an exact count, but there appears to be at least 10 to 12 families that have moved to safer areas of the city," he says. "One member was evacuated last Saturday, and there is a very good chance her home is gone. She is in her 80s, and I last spoke to her on Tuesday and she was staying with her son, so I know she is safe. But I'm still waiting to hear from her regarding damage to her home."
Another WELS congregation in Colorado Springs, Fount of Life Lutheran Church, is located outside the current danger zone. Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn is contacting members of his church who were forced to evacuate their homes, but as of now there is not an immediate need for relief funds there.
The smoke behind the Colorado Springs welcome sign, southbound on I25.
Photos taken by Amanda Seiltz
A view from the Salem Lutheran Church parsonage on the first day of the wildfires, Saturday, June 23.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Debbie is dumping large amounts of rain on Florida, and the governor has declared a state of emergency due to massive flooding in the region. Rev. Joel Schwartz, pastor at Peace, Holiday, Fla., and his family were forced to evacuate Sunday night as flood waters threatened their home. Several members of the church also are reporting severe damage to their homes from tornadoes that swept through the area.
"We are planning a church workday on Saturday, and we are going to our members' homes damaged by the storm to help them with the clean-up and to lend a loving hand to those that need it," says Schwartz. "The challenge will be that all of this water is flowing into our rivers, and they are already overflowing. We need to assess the damage and the recovery needed once this event is over."
The flooding also caused damage to the carpet and flooring at all nine entrances of the church facility. The garage door on the parsonage was damaged by the constant pounding of waves created from vehicles navigating through the flooded street.
Schwartz, who is now back in his home, says, "We are praying for all of the people that have lost their homes and that God would use this for their good. We also feel blessed that the rain stopped. That was an answer to many prayers."
WELS Christian Aid and Relief is working with the pastors of these congregations to assess damage to the church facilities as well as to their members' homes. Mr. Mark Vance, director of operations, says that some initial relief funding has already been sent to Peace in Florida. He is also planning a trip to Florida next week to further aid the congregation.
For more information or questions about Christian Aid and Relief contact Pastor Robert Hein, chairman, at 262-334-7881 or Mr. Mark Vance, director of operations, at 414-416-6396. For grant requests, contact Mr. Mark Vance. You can also submit your questions electronically through the Contact Us form.
Christian Aid and Relief provides support to areas hit with natural disasters. To support relief efforts, send a check to WELS Re: Christian Aid and Relief, 2929 N Mayfair Rd., Milwaukee WI, 53222-4398.