California Church Members Wonder if Services Will Continue After Fire Destroys Much of Their Community

Members of Paradise Ridge Southern Baptist Church have asked pastor Bob Sorensen if they will continue to have a church but not because their building is gone. They ask because the Camp Fire destroyed much of their community.

“We’ve had disasters before, and we thought we would be able to just go back,” Sorensen said. “But you can’t go back.”

While the church still stands — “an amazing thing,” he said — Sorensen’s home was destroyed by the fire.

“I still have people from the church who are missing that I can’t find,” he said. “I spend hours a day trying to find them.”

On the day the blaze overwhelmed Paradise, Sorensen and his wife Linda got the call that their granddaughter’s school was being evacuated. The typically 15-minute drive turned into an hour and a half. It required five hours of driving amid fire and smoke to make it down the ridge and into safety.

“It was wall-to-wall traffic trying to get out,” Sorensen said. “There were flames and smoke. It never turned daylight that day.”

With 59 reported deaths and counting, the Camp Fire has officially become the most lethal in California’s history. More than 9,000 residential and commercial structures have been destroyed.

“The fire came on so fast, and it was just mass confusion,” said Mike Bivins, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) director for California Baptists. The roads into and out of the towns of Paradise and Magalia are limited.

“The fire seems to have trapped more people than was originally figured,” he said.

Bivins has heard horror stories like Sorensen’s from survivors in shelters who had to run and drive for their lives to escape the fire.

First responders continue search and rescue efforts, using cadaver dogs to help find victims. Emergency utility crews are traveling into the area to ensure that electricity, propane and gas will not create hazards for residents when they are allowed to return.

Once the responders complete their jobs, Bivins and SBDR will begin cooperating with churches in the region, assessing how best to support the pastors, congregations and communities, many of whom have lost homes and loved ones.

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Source: Baptist Press