Samaritan’s Purse is helping victims of wildfires in Colorado
With shovels, sifters, buckets, and servants’ hearts, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers are providing hope for people who lost much to wildfires in the Colorado Springs area.GiveSamaritan’s Purse is responding to the Black Forest Fire, the most destructive in Colorado history. Last month, it burned 16,000 acres in nine days, destroyed more than 500 homes, killed two people, and forced thousands to flee.
Property owners were allowed back into the area when the fire was 100 percent contained on June 20. Most returned to find a wall here, a fireplace there—but nothing else of what they used to call home.
Samaritan’s Purse staff and equipment arrived in the area on June 19. A Disaster Relief Unit is based at Mountain Springs Church in Colorado Springs, two miles from the burn zone.
So far more than 2,100 local volunteers have completed work on more than 113 homes, looking for anything that can be salvaged. They shovel debris onto sifting screens, and let the ashes fall through to see what remains. Teams are working at multiple homes on a daily basis.. Volunteers have had significant piles of ash to comb through during this particular deployment as many homes have been more than 4,000 square feet. One home was around 10,000 square feet. But volunteers are happy to help and have been handling the soot and heat in stride.
“God is working through these volunteers as they serve unselfishly and with a Christlike attitude,” Samaritan’s Purse program manager Wayne Shoemaker said. “A homeowner said to one of the team leads today, ‘When I look at you all working on my property there, I see Christ.’ That sets the bar pretty high.”
Residents appreciate the assistance and efforts of the volunteers. Wayne Shoemaker, program manager for the response, related the story of one man who gained a new understanding of the importance of recovering everything possible. He watched his wife become joyfully emotional about the discovery of even small trinkets.
When a volunteer brought the homeowner an object, the man asked the volunteer to take it to his wife, saying “Now I get why you do what you do.”
Bob Schmidt lived in his Black Forest home with his wife and 21-year-old son for the past seven years. He said they originally bought the house because it was one of those “postcard type picture houses” where they would sit by the creek at night and just enjoy the surrounding beauty. Now, it’s just a pile of ash.
“It’s exhausting. I had to stop a few times, because you can’t look at it all day,” he said. “Before we got here it was just a big pile of rubble, but now you are seeing all of your possessions one by one just destroyed, so it’s kind of like a knife in your heart a little bit.”
Volunteers have recovered a few of his personal items including some pieces of unharmed china that belonged to his wife’s grandmother. They also were able to clear off the top of the fish pond the family had built on their property. Surprisingly, the fish were still alive. But for Bob, one of the things he’s most upset about isn’t a possession at all.
“The saddest thing to me is these trees,” he said. “If we rebuild, this is going to be a reminder for a while, a long while. I don’t know if any of them are going to survive at all.”
The family does plan to rebuild, but they’re keeping their options open. Right now, they’re grateful they are alive and are appreciative of Samaritan’s Purse volunteers who are taking time to help them search for belongings.
“Our volunteers will be out there and will continue to be out there to help give these homeowners the closure that they need to be able to walk away from these homes… also bringing the hope that lies in Jesus, knowing that there’s a home waiting for them where no fire, no tornado, no hurricane will ever affect,” said Todd Taylor, the first Samaritan’s Purse staff member on the scene. “We are looking forward to the new opportunity God has given us to share the Gospel. Ministry opportunities abound and we have had a steady flow of homeowners coming by and calling.”
Assessment teams were allowed into the affected area on June 21, and began receiving requests for help. Volunteers began working the next day.
“There are people that say, ‘That’s a terrible thing,’ but that’s where it ends, and I know there’s a lot of people out there that that is their mentality, without people stepping up and doing it,” said Mark Willard, a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer from Larkspur, Colo. “People are hurting and God put it on my heart to help.”
We have received more than 263 requests for help so far. Our teams are working alongside chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response team, who also deployed to minister to the victims.