Beyond the smoke of Moonlight Fire, hands of mercy

September 20, 2007

*By Martha Milk


Here, near the “Moonlight Fire” at Greenville and Taylorsville UMC, we have been living out a “Ministry of Presence and Caring.” In the early days of the Plumas County fire that scorched more than 64,000 acres, the people most vulnerable during any type of emergency were helped by church members who themselves were on the edge. Our friends in the community needed tires, batteries, car parts, and transportation for medications and other items – just to be ready to evacuate.


Greenville UMC became the coordination center for the Red Cross and other local agencies. We provided resources for the “least of these,” who included the elderly, disabled, young families and vulnerable persons in the Native American community. Some needed emergency medicines. The smoke-filled valley put elders and children with asthma and chronic respiratory problems at high risk, so extra oxygen was also a necessity. Families evacuated their children using next month’s rent and food money. We provided funds for extra diapers as families on the move had nowhere to wash. There were needs for emergency medications and water. As we were already suffering a drought year, even the 14 helicopters in the area had trouble finding where to scoop up water for fire control. Area residents found their wells dried up. There was a need for an on site coordinator as the full-time pastor of two churches struggled to respond to the soaring demands and still deal with non-fire related congregational concerns.


Now as we enter into the long-term recovery phase, there are numerous concerns. Emergency funds made available for the relief stage were used to deal with the immediate concerns, but help will be needed for people to return. Hundreds were evacuated from the fire region. Many residents are only seasonally employed – there is a high concentration of people living on assistance or on very limited fixed incomes. Some who left used all available cash to evacuate and now have little if any resources to go back. Others, hospitalized with breathing problems due to the level of smoke pollution in the area, now need assistance, transportation and emergency medications. Transportation funds will be a big issue as will be food and other basics. Costs for basic services, such as water and sewage, run about $50 for a small household.


Two structures burned in this area, one affecting a member from Taylorsville UMC and the other a member of Greenville UMC. One of them has already decided the family cannot afford to return.


Need for volunteer on site

A volunteer coordinator on site is needed, and resources for that person’s immediate costs (transportation and food being the main costs). The on-site coordinator provides relief to the pastor, coordinates a continuing assessment of needs, deals with follow-through and coordination of resource persons, and provides a continued ministry of caring and presence to be the face of Jesus to respond to those in need.


Needed are prayers for those who suffered real fear in the face of the smoke and evacuation crisis, for families with ongoing health problems and those who live on the edge financially and emotionally. Funds will be needed to respond to the concerns which emerge as people return to homes. Pastor Tana McDonald, CA-NV Conference Disaster Response and UMVIM Coordinator Dr. Sue King, and I are working together to assess and respond to the fire-related needs of the community. Water will be needed until the end of October when the wells finally start to refill. As Pastor McDonald says, “Rain is much needed, and prayers for rain. Hold us in your hearts, be with us in spirit, and be mindful of our connectedness and of how much we owe to the readiness of UMCOR and UMVIM and to our connectional church.”


*Martha Milk is a CLayM minister in California-Nevada Conference and a Volunteer in Mission. She has been serving as the on site volunteer disaster coordinator.