Loss of 19 firemen in Arizona prompts chaplains' deployment

Baptist Press
Posted: Jul 01, 2013 5:22 PM
YARNELL, Ariz. (BP) -- After an out-of-control, lightning-induced fire in Yarnell, Ariz., killed 19 firefighters on Sunday, Southern Baptists are mobilizing disaster relief chaplains to walk alongside grieving families to offer spiritual support.

The deaths represented the worst firefighting tragedy in Arizona's history, the Phoenix daily Arizona Republic reported.

As of Monday morning, Arizona Southern Baptists had connected with local churches near Yarnell and were determining the needs of the impacted families. Chaplain teams are already on the way to the disaster, said Larry Hyde, the disaster relief director for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

"Our response to hurting families is to help hurting people, not to make Baptists out of them," Hyde said. "We're just out there to support people's needs and share the love of Jesus at a time when their lives are falling apart."

Hyde is hopeful that Southern Baptists will have opportunities to minister to the firefighters' families through relationships already built with Arizona's fire services. Besides looking to meet any spiritual needs encountered by firefighters' families, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains will be on hand to help churches dealing with the loss as well.

The firefighters were part of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots of nearby Prescott, Ariz., and all but one of the firefighters were Prescott residents. They were responding to a fire that may have already destroyed half of Yarnell's 500 homes. One member of the team was in a separate location and survived the fire.

By late Sunday 250 firefighters were battling the fire; that number was expected to climb to 400 on Monday.

As many as two kitchen teams from the Arizona convention will be put on standby to provide food for fire survivors housed at shelters, Hyde said, and shower and ash-out teams will respond.

Fritz Wilson, executive director of SBDR, notes that all disaster relief responders grieve when news like this comes.

"In the back of our minds, we always know that first responders are willing to put their lives on the line, but when it actually happens, we're always caught off guard and saddened," Wilson said. "The whole response community hurts when this happens."

Wilson said he anticipates a long-term response and will work with Arizona SBDR to facilitate help from Southern Baptists in other states.

Steve Bass, the North American Mission Board's vice president for the West region, echoed Wilson's concerns and promised the prayers of Southern Baptists.

"Many of these are younger men who represent families," said Bass, who lives in Phoenix and served for 15 years as the executive director of the Arizona convention before coming to NAMB in 2011. "We lost 19 great people, but we have immediately impacted families as well. Those children are never going to get away from this. That's when your heart goes out to them. Obviously our prayers are for them. I'm sure our churches in the area will be reaching out to those families the best they can."

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers and chaplains and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit

namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks designated "disaster relief" to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543."

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.

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