By Megan Mertz
More than 100 LCMS members were evacuated and three are known to have lost homes in the Black Forest wildfire outside of Colorado Springs, Colo. The fire, which started June 11, has reportedly destroyed some 14,200 acres and more than 500 structures, and claimed the lives of two people.
“Some people got out with only the clothes on their backs. They don’t even have a change of clothes or a toothbrush,” said the Rev. Dr. Dennis Lucero, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, Colo.
According to Lucero, five families from his congregation were evacuated, including an elderly woman whose home was burned to the ground.
“She’s lived in the same home for 52 years. She said to me, ‘It isn’t so much losing the things that hurts, but it’s losing all the family memories. But God is good,’ ” Lucero said. “Our crew is going to go in and sift through the ashes and literally find anything we can for her.”
Immanuel is one of four LCMS congregations that have been affected by the fire. The others are Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Family of Christ Lutheran Church and Shepherd of the Springs Lutheran Church — all in the Colorado Springs area.
The Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response, and the Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of LCMS Mercy Operations, visited the area June 20 to help the LCMS Rocky Mountain District, local LCMS congregations and Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains (an LCMS Recognized Service Organization) coordinate their response to the ongoing disaster.
“It’s too early to do a full assessment because residents are just now being allowed back into the affected areas,” said Merritt. “Many people don’t even know if their houses are still standing.”
During their visit with representatives of Lutheran entities in Colorado, Merritt and Fale addressed the immediate and intermediate needs that are likely to arise. These include transitional housing, clothing and shoes, loss of income, replacement of medications, child care and respite for professional church workers who are involved in recovery efforts.
Merritt says he plans to return to Colorado Springs soon to discuss the long-term recovery plan.
In the meantime, LCMS members are helping each other and the community. According to Lucero, one member of Immanuel used equipment from his excavation company to move other residents’ personal items and horses out of harm’s way before the fire moved in.
Another member is housing an entire family that can’t return to their home. “She doesn’t even know them. She just knew there was a need,” the pastor said.
“Holy Cross and Immanuel already have teams ready to go when they are able,” said Charles Pierce, the district’s disaster-response coordinator, who anticipates more fires as the summer progresses. “I’m sure there will be a lot more volunteers if we put out the call. Our people have a generous heart.”
As assessment continues, the district and local congregations will be able to identify the unmet needs of the community and help fill the gap between what assistance is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance, said Merritt.
“That’s where the church can come in with material and financial aid,” he continued. “The pastors and members of our congregations can go out into the community to offer prayer support and just listen to what people have gone through.”
To learn more about LCMS Disaster Response, visit lcms.org/disaster.
To support those in need through LCMS Disaster Response:
- Make an online gift at lcms.org/givenow/disaster.
- Mail checks payable to “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (with a memo line or note designating “LCMS Disaster Relief”) to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- Call toll-free 888-930-4438 (8:10 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday).
Megan Mertz is a staff writer for LCMS Communications.