Texas wildfires char over 1,550 homes, continue to blaze

By September 13, 2011

USA (MNN) — Flames continue to consume parts of Texas in some of the state's worst wildfires in history. Over 1,550 homes have already been completely destroyed by the blaze. That number is expected to rise.

When Tropical Storm Lee blew in, rather than soaking in much-needed rains, Texas felt only the winds of the storm. As winds ripped across the flat Texas landscape–which was and still is experiencing the state's severest drought on record, flames were fanned. Nearly 200 wildfires erupted, which have now burned over 126,844 acres according to the Texas Forest Service.

Two of the fires joined together to break the state record for damage done by a single fire. Bastrop, Texas has suffered the loss of about 1,400 homes and 34,000 acres as a result.

After weeks of fighting them, sources agree that the fires are only 50% contained.

"It's a very chaotic situation," says Mark Lewis, Crisis Response director for the Evangelical Free Church of America. "Many people have no idea whether their homes are safe or not. Thousands are evacuated and in shelter situations."

Yesterday, some were allowed to see the damage of their homes when police deemed it safe to return. Others remain in shelters, unable to return until the danger dies down. Many of these victims left their homes with only minutes to spare and had no time to take anything with them. One report mentioned a man who had only just moved into his new home, only to be evacuated a day later. His new home is now a heap of ash.

Churches of course have been affected as well. Lewis says 20% of a Free Church congregation in Bastrop have lost their homes. He says that's a common statistic.

Lewis has spoken with several pastors in the area, but a conversation with one pastor in particular stuck with him. "His words were, ‘It's like a slow, long train wreck, and we're just starting to try to crawl out of the wreckage,'" says Lewis of this distressed Texan pastor.

"There's a weariness already that's setting in," adds Lewis. "It's been many days. [There's] a high degree of distress and uncertainty."

Despite ongoing projects to help tornado victims in Joplin, flood victims in Minot, and victims from all over from the recent Tropical Storm Irene, the EFCA is moving in to assist. The ministry's Crisis Response team will be equipping churches for outreach, which includes physical assistance for victims in addition to spiritual guidance. The EFCA will train churches in crisis counseling, as well.

Already, the disaster has opened the door for Gospel conversations.

"There's already been significant conversation about spiritual things, and people are  just trying to answer that question: Why? Why did this happen? Why to us? [Or] why were we spared?…We expect that there's going to be a great opportunity for the churches just to really express Christ in a real significant and tangible way," says Lewis, "today, and moving forward."

Homes will need to be rebuilt, and the EFCA will likely have volunteer projects available in the future. But for now, the situation is too unstable to send teams in. "It's actually a very dangerous situation currently, but the current opportunity would be just to give," says Lewis.

The EFCA will have a crisis fund set up at efca.org.

The second thing you can do is pray. Pray for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have lost everything, or who are hosting families who have lost homes. Pray for peace in the area and for churches to be a beacon of hope in the chaos. Pray that hearts would be open to God's truth and that ultimately this disaster would result in lives eternally changed.

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