The mind-numbing speed with which the wildfire they are calling Camp Fire ravaged Paradise, California, is almost incomprehensible. At one point, observers reported, the inferno was torching the equivalent of one football field of ground every second for 90 minutes! That's 10,000 acres consumed in an hour and a half. If the fire's velocity were in a straight line, it would be traveling across the ground at 300 feet/second—or 204 miles per hour. It is no wonder the flames were almost unbeatable. In this town of 20,000, more than 6,700 structures were reduced to ash in a matter of minutes.
Mayor Jody Jones told a reporter: "'It's pretty devastating. It's huge. I would say 90 percent of our homes are gone. The entire town council lost their homes, half of our police department, most of our town administrative staff, just about every friend I know'" (https://fox40.com/2018/11/12/paradise-is-home-personal-stories-emerge-fr...). Fire chief David Hawks, who grew up in the town, described their efforts to contain the onslaught: "'I got into my firefighting gear and immediately responded to Pentz Road, which was where the fire was first reported in Paradise. As you can picture a snow blizzard, it's just an ember blizzard. And all those embers were pelting homes and pelting the ground'" (ibid).
Forty-eight deaths from the Camp Fire are now reported, with scores of individuals still missing.
Also lost in the firestorm was the Paradise Seventh-day Adventist church, the homes of the pastoral leadership team, the kindergarten through fourth-grade section of Paradise Academy, and the lower level of the Feather River Adventist Health hospital in Paradise. Newly arrived Paradise pastor Steve Hamilton, on the church website, writes: "All our staff members and the vast majority of our church family have lost their homes. If you need to contact the church office, please understand that we may not be able to respond as quickly as we might like"
But stamped across the church's homepage in fiery letters is #ParadiseStrong. Pastor Hamilton notes: "Though the physical attributes of our earthly Paradise are destroyed, the spirit of Paradise has spread across the country and around the world, as people are moved to volunteer resources to help. Despite the loss, we recognize that we're also blessed by the kindness and generosity of others" (ibid).
What can we, a half a nation away, do to help? Hamilton again: "In fact, at this point, we have donations of material in excess of what we have resources to distribute. For the immediate future, monetary donations are more useful. You can go direct to our Giving page [on their website], if you like. And course, prayers are always welcome" (ibid).
If you would like to send a donation for the Paradise relief (and rebuilding) effort, here are two suggestions from Mark Woodham, president of the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, on the conference website: (1) donate online (www.nccsda.com) or (2) text NCCSDA to 77977 to give.
My psalm for the day this Wednesday included these words: "Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Psalm 113:5-7).
Truth be told, this entire civilization is on fire, metaphorically and in California literally. But the tender-hearted Creator of Earth is not unmindful of what His children suffer here below. He needs no binoculars to observe our plight. He is Immanuel, the God who is with us. "In all [your] affliction, [I] am afflicted" (Isaiah 63:9). This is the One who promises to raise the needy "from the ash heap." And while we are all yet far from Paradise (the promised home of God's friends one day)—do not fear the fires that scorch your own heart and life right now. "'When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze,'" is His promise to you spiritually (Isaiah 43:2).
Because with Jesus the best is yet to come. In the words of the English writer John Milton, we will one day move from "Paradise Lost" to "Paradise Regained." And in that penultimate move, we shall know at last the greatest Thanksgiving of all.