Written by Anthony Moujaes
A United Church of Christ church building and an associated camp have so far been spared from the destruction of a Colorado wildfire that has been burning for three days. The wildfire erupted in the Black Forest near Colorado Springs and has consumed close to 400 homes since Tuesday afternoon, June 11. With the area evacuated, all that can be done is to wait and hope for the best.
La Foret Conference & Retreat Center and Black Forest Community Church UCC, both located to the south of the area where the fire started and spread, remain undamaged for now.
"We do suspect we are dealing with personal property damage since members live in the area, but we don’t know for sure because no one can get into the evacuated zone and the fire is growing," said the Rev. David Popham, associate conference minister for the Rocky Mountain Conference.
When the fire erupted, La Foret didn’t have any visitors and only needed to evacuate staff, Popham said. Two of the camp’s part-time staff members have lost their homes. As firefighters and first responders try to contain the blaze, La Foret has been transformed into an emergency center as its dining hall is opened to personnel in need of water.
"I’m hoping that if we can get in, we can feed the first responders and open up to the community in any way we can," said Ralph Towsend La Foret’s director. "They’re all our neighbors who’ve lost their homes. Any way we can assist, we will.
"We’ll distribute money to each family of the staff who’ve lost their homes for their immediate needs."
The UCC’s Disaster Ministries is also preparing to make grant money available through One Great Hour of Sharing once the damage is assessed. With the uncertainty around how long it will take to contain the fire or return to the evacuated areas, Black Forest UCC has already settled on arrangements for worship this weekend. Thanks to the generosity of a sister congregation, Black Forest Community UCC will host worship at 2 p.m. on Sunday in the facility of Vista Grande UCC (Colorado Springs).
"Our prayers will be prayers of support," said the Rev. Burl Kreps, interim minister for Black Forest UCC. Kreps is out of town, but remains in touch with families of the congregation. "More than words, my role is to be supportive in any way we can muster. It’s important to know we have support from the conference and the denomination that people have been thinking about us. That’s great to know."
"We ask that you keep both members and friends of the church and La Foret staff in your prayers," Popham said. "We are still seeking to ascertain any damage to their personal properties, but will not know any confirmed news until folks can return to the evacuation zone, which still has restricted access."
Wind is carrying the fire is spreading to the north and east of La Foret and the congregation. As of Wednesday morning the evacuation zone had doubled in size and the flames had yet to be contained at all.
"[Tuesday] night I could see the glow of the fire from my home in Littleton, 70 miles away," said the Rev. Tom Rehling, conference minister for the Rocky Mountain Conference of the UCC.
"We have received many inquiries as to how close the fire is to [La Foret and Black Forest UCC]," Popham said. "In both locations the fire came down to Shoup Road and was prevented from jumping by the valiant efforts of the firefighters. We give thanks to those who worked day and night to contain the fire as much as possible."