Fire Evacuees Calling Fairgrounds Home

Fire Evacuees Calling Fairgrounds Home

by the Rev. Don Callison, Deacon, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Napa

I spent Saturday afternoon, September 20th, at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga, with evacuees from the Valley Fire. Due to the heat, the Quiet Tent (established by clergy in our diocese to provide a quiet, contemplative space for evacuees) was not being utilized, so I decided to walk the grounds and visit with the people calling the fairgrounds home. I was struck by everyone’s positive and patient attitude. Every single person I spoke to was grateful for the care they were receiving and indicating that there was nothing more that they needed. In fact, if there was a complaint, it was the food was too good and too plentiful.

I came across a family that consisted of a grandmother, mother, daughters and children of the daughters. They had set-up a small little encampment, with their tents in a circle with a canopy and picnic table in the center. I had arrived when a doctor from Oakland had come to entertain the kids with his magic tricks. It was good to see laughter in the middle of this tent city. I spoke briefly with the grandmother to ensure she had everything she and her family needed. She explained that for now, they were well taken care of, but her fear is the time when they are allowed to move back to their homes, if they still exist. She feels that is when the help will be most needed. This was a common theme for the day.

In the next couple of days, the Red Cross will be shutting down the Calistoga site and moving everyone to either Middletown or the Twin Pines Casino. While I am sure the folks will be happier to be closer to home, I am worried that access to services and volunteers will be more challenging. I came into contact with a couple of folks that probably need mental health care. The services are available, but it is just getting the people to seek these services is the challenge. Most of them are alone, and have probably lived that way for a while, and seeking help goes against their fiber.

Seniors and Section 8 Housing

It appears the greatest need going forward will be to assist Seniors and folks who lost their Section 8 housing. The Seniors are looking very weary and frail. Most are in good spirits but sleeping in a tent for a week is taking its toll. One couple I visited with were fortunate in that a small cabin was made available to them free of charge. The woman having recently had a stroke was limited in mobility, and was looking forward to a more comfortable living arrangement. I spoke to one gentlemen who was displaced from his Section 8 housing and wasn’t sure where he would go next. The Red Cross is working to find him a suitable place, but you could tell the uncertainty was creating stress.

I heard some amazing stories about the fire and its swiftness. One man showed me his truck and the scorched paint from driving through a wall of flames. I heard stories of evacuees helping other evacuees with tent set-up, and obtaining bedding and nutrition. 

I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the facility, in the smiles of the volunteers and in the hospitality of the evacuees. With each person I went to, I realized that I was visiting their home, and viewing all that they still had. And each visit came with an offer of a bottled water or to share in their food.

Going forward, it is clear that our diocese will need to partner with an agency or someone with boots on the ground that can identify how we can help, as people deal with the loss of their house and possessions- and to also help those deal with why their house survived when their neighbor’s did not.

I thank Deacon Susan Napoliello for her organizing efforts. I am humbled to have served the Lord in such a profound and diaconal way.


God Is Good

by Archdeacon Gary Brown, Deacon, St. John's Episcopal Church, Marysville

I just want to reaffirm Don Callison's+ description of the situation from my own experience in Calistoga on Friday and Saturday, September 19th and 20th Deacon Susan Napoliello has done a marvelous job of spearheading this effort.

There was excellent support for a range of needs at the fairgrounds, but once things are moved to the Twin Pines Casino, it will be more challenging for those affected to seek the help needed. Even at the Fairgrounds, it was up to individuals to go to each service offered. Most of the folks I talked with were reasonably optimistic, even the ones who had lost their homes. I was, and am, concerned about the folks who I did not see; the ones who are not so optimistic and are in shock and grieving, and probably only came out of their tent when they had to. One woman came to the fire map that is posted and started talking about her own experience, but quickly started weeping and ran to her tent saying, "I can't talk about it any more." Even those who were more optimistic may well have a more traumatic experience when they return and see the first hand aftermath of the fire.

My concern once people return, is that having the services so centralized is going to further isolate those who are too traumatized to seek help. Hopefully, local mental health and other resources will be actively going out to people's home-sites. I am also hoping that our diocese can get some boots on the ground, as well as giving financial support where needed. As Don+ said, the elderly are a special problem. Also, those who rent are going to have more difficulty - at least property owners can camp and rebuild; renters have lost all and have nowhere to go - and of course, rental property is going to be scarce. In regard to gift cards, a couple of people asked me if we had gas cards. People are going to be traveling long distances to get to any services and gas is not cheap, although thankfully prices are down at this time.

I also want to communicate what a blessing it was to be there and (hopefully) be part of the healing process for some. More than one person shared with me the importance of their faith in getting through it all. Most were not Episcopalians, but denomination was irrelevant. Those who had faith had faith in God, period. And even those of other denominations, who are usually more discriminatory, talked with me (in spite of my collar) and shared their gratitude that all who were there, as members of a faith-based group, were working together to spread God's love and reassurance.

God is good.


St. John's, Lakeport In Good Spirits

by the Rev. Delia Fay, Supply Clergy, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lakeport

I was at St. John's, Lakeport on Sunday, September 21st, and am pleased to let you know that the congregation is in good spirits. We had a larger than usual group (22 as opposed to 17), with at least one newcomer who had evacuated to Lakeport. I could still count the people who were missing, and had evacuated to the Fairgrounds in Calistoga.

I preached on the fire this day, and the possible theological responses to it (Why did God let this happen? God did this. Why did God do this to me? Etc.). Many other thoughts and feelings arose, like the fire bringing into focus the fact that there is no priest at St. John’s, Lakeport right now, and how much we all miss Fr. Leo Joseph, St. John's Priest-in-Charge who passed away in January of this year. Another is that God and Christ are with us and carry us through the hard times, and that our faith is our comfort in times of distress, and our faith in Jesus' real presence with us is real. These topics did not have much to do with this week's readings, but I felt it was best under the circumstances.

Bishop Beisner was also in Lakeport on Saturday, September 19th, and met with the choir at St. John’s. There was a great thanksgiving that the Bishop prayed with them. He also brought Safeway gift cards to share and to be used in relief efforts. In addition to food, we are hearing that those in need are also requesting gas cards. Lake County is large and services are not concentrated in one town; they are scattered. Fortunately, the buses are not charging any fares right now, so some people are able get around.

St. John's thanks you all for your continued prayers and support.


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