Late-summer wildfires are not unexpected in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, but the intensity and proximity to communities was more severe this year. Rob Toornstra is pastor of Sunnyslope Christian Reformed Church in Salem, Ore. The fire system named Beachy Creek fires came within 20 miles (35 km) of Salem, burning a whole town and causing devastating damage to several others.
“It was a perfect dry storm of winds, hot temperatures, and forest floor conditions,” said Toornstra.
Some members of Toornstra’s congregation had to prepare to evacuate their homes. Congregants have friends who lost everything. Under an eerie sky and dangerous smoke levels, church members joined with the local community to provide clothing and food for people temporarily sheltering at the agricultural state fairgrounds.
As agencies opened up shelters for the homeless population, Toornstra, along with others, volunteered for a night shift that provided a bed as well as coffee, snacks, and a meal.
“Oregon always gets its share of fires,” said Toornstra “but this was closer than ever.”
Aleah Marsden is a member of Fairfield CRC, midway between Sacramento and San Francisco in California. Some congregants were temporarily displaced, although the fires remained at bay. The church has been hosting its services in the parking lot for some time in keeping with area COVID-19 protocols.
“We found ourselves making last-minute calls as to whether we would hold our services due to the constantly changing air quality,” Marsden said.
Pastor Dave Buurma’s Napa Valley Community Church community faced sobering experiences as a result of the fires. On the surrounding hills around the church, 20 wineries were destroyed. Two of the church's families lost their homes and properties. Jon and Amber Buurma are one of the families. Jon Buurma is Dave’s son. The family, which includes three children, evacuated three times before the fires finally consumed their neighborhood.
“The family moved to Indiana last week,” Buurma told The Banner on Oct. 6. “We will miss them as a family and in our church.” The younger Buurmas join a growing number of people for whom the continual threat and loss from the fires has become too much.
Fire is powerful and spreads fast, said Buurma, “giving little time to escape and consuming everything in its path.”
But the pastor also reflected on God’s faithfulness in the face of uncertainty and loss. “The outpouring of support has been incredible,” Buurma said. “Donations have been coming in from across the country, unsolicited, from individuals and churches.”