Finally, after four days of spreading wildfires, the situation in Southern California is improving. The Santa Ana winds that made the fires especially volatile have subsided, and firefighters are regaining control of the blazes. Taking stock of the damage this morning, the Los Angeles Times reports that 1,609 homes have been destroyed and 695 square miles scorched. The destruction is expected to cost insurance companies around $1 billion - a pittance compared to the staggering $41.1 billion insurers paid out for Katrina, but still a significant natural disaster.
Or was it a natural disaster? Authorities suspect that at least two of the dozen or so large fires in Southern California were caused by arsonists. One suspect has been arrested on suspicion of arson; another was killed during a police chase.
Whatever the cause of the fires, one little-reported aspect of the story has been the response of churches and Christian organizations. Congregations throughout the area are assisting in relief work of one kind or another. World Vision, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Society, and Samaritan's Purse have all contributed as well, with Samaritan's Purse sending five disaster-response trucks to Southern California. It's impossible to know the full extent of Christians' efforts - from churches that have housed evacuees to the person-to-person encouragement and assistance that pastors and church members have given to friends and neighbors - but hopefully more of this story will come out in the days ahead.
In the meantime, let's continue to pray. As a World Vision press release yesterday pointed out, low-income families in the area, especially those without adequate insurance on their homes or apartments, will be particularly devastated by fire damage.
Update: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has also been part of the aid effort in California. Their Rapid Response Team (formed in response to September 11) was deployed for the 18th time to "provide spiritual and emotional assistance," according to a press release.
The BGEA website has more about what their chaplains are encountering in the region.