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Wildfire Destroying or Damaging Dozens of Latter-day Saint Homes in Oregon

Medford, Central Point, Springfield, Salem, Oregon City and Mount Hood stakes affected

Oregon Wildfire 2020
Homeowners survey their property in a neighborhood destroyed by wildfire on September 13, 2020, in Talent, Oregon. Hundreds of homes in Talent and nearby towns have been lost due to wildfire. Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

This story appears here courtesy of TheChurchNews.com. It is not for use by other media.

By Jason Swensen, Church News

Latter-day Saints are numbered among the legions of Oregonians being upended by wildfires across their state.

The blazes have claimed lives, destroyed homes and displaced tens of thousands.

No Latter-day Saints have been injured in the blazes and missionaries serving in affected regions are safe, accounted for and helping others.

Still, the state’s large Latter-day Saint community is in pain.

The homes of at least 57 member families “have been destroyed or damaged,” Elder David L. Wright, an Area Seventy, told the Church News. That number is expected to grow as evacuated member families are slowly allowed to return to their communities to discover whether their homes are still standing.

A missionary apartment in Phoenix, Oregon, was also destroyed, but its occupants cleared out long before flames arrived. “Wherever there is even a hint of a fire threat, the missionaries are being moved until that threat diminishes,” said Elder Wright.

Members from the Medford Oregon Stake, Central Point Oregon Stake, Springfield Oregon Stake, Salem Oregon Stake, Oregon City Oregon Stake and Mount Hood Oregon Stake are all being affected by the wildfires.

No Church meetinghouses or other Church properties have been damaged.

On Saturday, hundreds of firefighters battled a pair of large blazes threatening to merge near the most populated part of Oregon, including the suburbs of Portland, the Associated Press reported.

Gov. Kate Brown said more than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated and about 500,000 are in different levels of evacuation zones, that is, they have been told either to leave or to prepare to do so.

Dozens of people were missing in Jackson County in the south and Marion County, where a fire continues to burn east of Salem, Brown said at a news conference Friday.

The high number of fires occurring simultaneously in the span of just a few days in Oregon was fueled by dry conditions, high temperatures and especially strong, swirling winds, according to the Associated Press.

Brown said that more than 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) have burned in Oregon in recent days, nearly doubling the land that burns in a typical year in the state and amounting to an area larger than the size of Rhode Island.

Oregon officials haven’t released an exact death count for the wildfires, but at least eight fatalities have been reported.

Kim Carbaugh fled from her home in Lyons with her husband, two children and two horses Monday.

“When we were driving away and I could see actual fire, the red and orange flames, at the time I didn’t feel scared. I had so much adrenaline — we just had to leave.” Carbaugh spoke to  the Associated Press on Friday from the livestock stables of the evacuation center at the State Fairgrounds in Salem.

With the two large fires — the Beachie Fire and the Riverside Fire — threatening to merge, some firefighters in Oregon’s Clackamas County were told to disengage temporarily Thursday because of the danger. Officials tried to reassure residents who abandoned their homes. Law enforcement officials said police patrols would be increased to prevent looting.

While understandably staggered by the wildfires, Latter-day Saints are being fortified by serving.

“The local leaders — the bishoprics and Relief Society presidencies — have done a great job managing the needs of the members and helping them find places to stay if they have nowhere to go,” said Elder Lawrence P. Blunck, an Area Seventy and longtime Oregon resident.

Local Church leaders have partnered with the Red Cross to deliver relief to members and non-members alike. The Central Point Oregon Stake center is being used as a community shelter. More than 100 people have found refuge inside the building or exterior grounds during the evacuations.

Elder Wright was moved while sharing the account of a displaced elderly couple who arrived, disoriented and distraught, at the Central Point stake center. They were soon taken in by a nearby Latter-day Saint family “who opened their home, calmed them down and helped that senior couple feel safe and secure.”

The full-time missionaries “have been absolute stars” serving however they are asked across Oregon. “They are being deployed to serve and help in the community. It’s gratifying to see,” said Elder Wright.

Latter-day Saint Oregonians and their neighbors are hoping, praying and fasting for favorable conditions to allow fire crews to contain the blazes and halt the danger.

“The weather has cooled down and there’s fog in the air,” said Elder Blunck. “That’s a tremendous blessing.”

Copyright 2020 Deseret News Publishing Company

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