Update on Colorado congregations' response to wildfires

By Beckett Stokes
Posted Jun 27, 2012

[Diocese of Colorado, Office of the Bishop] With fires raging around the state, parishes in many communities are affected by and responding to the worst wildfires the state has seen in some time.

The Waldo Canyon fire in the Colorado Springs area exploded overnight and ran into neighborhoods on the northwest side of Colorado Springs. Authorities now estimate at least 100 homes have been lost.  With more than 32,000 people in the area evacuated, parishes in Colorado Springs have been working to pair parishioners who are evacuated with other parishioners who have room. The Rev. Sally Hubbell, an associate priest at St. Michael’s, which was in the evacuation area, said, “I think half our parish is staying with the other half.”

Chapel of Our Saviour, also in Colorado Springs, is offering to help find homes for evacuees, as is St. Matthias in Monument. Grace & St. Stephen’s is also working to pair those with rooms to spare with those who have had to leave their homes, and will host St. Michael’s for services on Sunday if St. Michael’s remains under an evacuation order.

Chapel of Our Saviour has also been collecting supplies requested by local agencies offering support to evacuees and firefighters, including Care and Share and Westside Cares. They’ve also offered their parish hall to St. Michael’s as they need it.

Today mandatory evacuations spread into Teller County and the Woodland Park area. Cathedral Ridge, the diocesan conference and retreat center outside of Woodland Park, has closed for the next seven days. Their staff is facilitating alternative locations for groups who had reservations there during that time.

Episcopal Relief & Development has been in touch with the office of the bishop to see how they can help. The office of the bishop will take donations designated for fire relief and get them to either parishes in the area, Episcopal Relief & Development, or local agencies who are providing direct services to evacuees, firefighters and those who have lost property.

There are also evacuations in Boulder, thanks to the Flagstaff Fire, which remains relatively small at something over 200 acres, but given weather conditions, authorities are concerned it could grow. And, in the Fort Collins area, the High Park Fire has burned more than 87,000 acres and 257 homes.  Authorities there hope that favorable weather conditions in the area will allow evacuees to return to their neighborhoods within the next 48 hours.

There are also fires burning near Mancos and Pagosa Springs in southwestern Colorado. The Rev. Bob Seney, who serves the vicar at St. Paul’s in Mancos, reports that conditions there are improving.  “A light rain last night helped and clouds are helping to keep lower temps this a.m., “ he reports. “All of this is helping the fire fighters.  They are positive in their reports, but always with the warning that with a fire things can change quickly.”  The Rev. Doug Neel, rector at St. Patrick’s in Pagosa, reports that ranches in that area have been evacuated due to the Little Sand Creek Fire, which is 30 percent contained at this point.

The Rev. Dean Smith, who serves as the vicar at Peace in Christ Episcopal / Lutheran ministry in Elizabeth, sent this Litany in Time of Wildfires from the Rocky Mountain Synod (ECLA):

Litany in Time of Wildfires
This litany may be used by those who are concerned by the destruction of wildfires.

Holy God, in the wake of fires that devour and consume,
Refresh us with the water of life.

In the barren places of ash and dust,
Restore us with the water of life.

When all we can see is devastation and despair,
Renew us with the water of life.

When those whose vocations are to protect the property of others are tired and weary,
Renew them with the water of life.

When the creatures of the forest are frightened, displaced, or injured,
Renew them with the water of life.

When the fires have ceased, the cycle of renewal begins, and the plants and animals return,
Renew them with the water of life.

In Christ, we are washed clean.
We are refreshed.

In Christ, we drink from the wellspring of hope.
We are restored.

In Christ, we dance in the fountain of life.
We are renewed.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

— based upon a Litany from ELCA worship resources. See additional resources at that link.

Local agencies who are assisting with the Colorado Springs fire include:

Pikes Peak Area Red Cross

Care and Share

The Salvation Army