Disaster relief team lends hand to fire victims

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Volunteer teams representing Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief will remain in the Black Forest area until at least the end of July.

That word came from Fritz Wilson, national executive director for disaster relief, who has been in the area overseeing teams and projects.

“Things are going really well,” Wilson said. “We’ve had volunteers in from California, Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, Oklahoma and Washington. People from all around the country are coming here to help and lend a hand.

“Many of our volunteers came from Moore, Oklahoma, where they were helping clean up after the violent tornado.”

The relief workers are doing everything from operating heavy equipment and cutting down charred trees, to cleaning up ash to helping homeowners sift through soot trying to find valuables. Chaplains are also brought in to help residents deal with the emotional and spiritual trauma in their lives.

“Every disaster is unique,” Wilson said. “Whether its fire, flood hurricane or tornado. For the people in Black Forest, this is their Katrina.

“I try not to make too many comparisons, but this is a big event.”

The volunteers first arrived shortly after the fire erupted on June 11. As many as 125 folks are on location each week. Most of them are being housed at the First Baptist Church of Black Forest (10865 Black Forest Road). The over flow are staying at Vista Grande Baptist Church (5680 Stetson Hills Blvd.).

“This is just another opportunity for us to do

something,” said Wes Johnson, who came from Oklahoma and was the team’s incident commander from June 27 through July 5.

The Black Forest Fire was the most destructive in Colorado history, consuming 511 homes and killing two people. More than 14,000 acres were burned in the heavily wooded area in the northeast part of Colorado Springs.

“These folks have been phenomenal,” said John Wells, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Black Forest. “God has used them to reach out and help people. Disaster Relief is the arm that has done it.”

Dennis Velz, director of the Colorado disaster relief team, first arrived on site within 24 hours after the fire started. He put together an incident command team. Velz also worked the massive Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 that destroyed nearly 350 homes and killed two people, while burning more than 18,000 acres. More than 32,000 residents were evacuated.

The Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief was formed in 1967 after Hurricane Beulah struck the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas Coast. Today, the organization has about 90,000 volunteers.

All Southern Baptist Convention workers go through rigorous background checks and extensive disaster training. The organization has opened up partnerships with relief agencies such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

“Hopefully, come the end of July we’ll be on the back end of this and not the front end,” Wilson said.

For more information or to donate, go to http://www.namb.net/dr/.