.- A massive forest fire in Colorado Springs has destroyed more homes than any previous fire in the state, prompting the local Catholic Charities head to ask for prayers for the victims and for an end to the blaze.
“Prayers are really going to be our greatest resource here,” said Mark Rohlena, president of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, on June 13. “We had a tough day today.”
In the three days since it began, the Black Forest Fire has completely destroyed at least 360 homes and has burned 15,000 acres of forest in a region north of Colorado Springs. At least 38,000 people from 13,000 homes near the fire have been evacuated, the Denver Post reports. Parts of Colorado Springs are now under mandatory evacuation orders.
The fire is already larger than last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire devastated the area. So far, the fire is not contained.
“We pray that we start to get containment,” Rohlena told CNA. “The magnitude of the home losses at this stage is really hitting everybody.”
Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church, which is near the mandatory evacuation zone, has lost power and is closed, the Colorado Catholic Herald reports. Several parishioners’ homes have been destroyed. The Benedictine sisters of Benet Hill Monastery, which is in the center of the Black Forest, have voluntarily evacuated.
Rohlena said that Catholic Charities is helping provide food to the first responders and will likely help provide food to evacuee shelters.
“We’re reaching out to those affected. Not only to those we can identify in parish communities that we have connections with. We will be reaching out to everybody to see if there are material needs,” he said.
“At a time like this, people are looking for a way to help. We’re trying to assess those needs and mobilize folks to where they can be used.”
The agency is helping organize Stephen Ministers, trained counselors who provide emotional support for those facing tragedies in their lives.
Some Stephen Ministers and other parish social outreach ministers are stationed at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in northeast Colorado Springs to help those affected, the Colorado Catholic Herald says.
“Certainly from this time forward we’re going to see the need to support people economically, in other ways,” Rohlena said.
The Catholic Charities head added that the fire is a personal threat to his family.
“I’m a resident of Black Forest. I’m currently out of my home too,” he said.
“We’re trying to keep an eye on our home. We’re now one street away from the mandatory evacuation area.”
“When I was going through the area yesterday, I saw the flames indeed had gotten too close for my comfort,” he said, adding that the fire department appears to have kept the situation under control.
Rohlena said the threat of the disaster gave him “a high level of empathy” for those who are suffering from the fires. He has had to consider how to communicate with his own children “in a way that gives them reassurance.”
“They’re on edge, too,” he explained.
Rohlena’s situation also reminded him of the importance of disaster preparedness.
“We never know when a disaster of one kind or another might come through our area,” he said. “If you have any notice at all, have those key documents and important mementos ready to go, with a plan for your family.”
Two other forest fires continue to burn in Colorado. A fire near Royal Gorge has burned 3,100 acres and is 20 percent contained. Another 600-acre fire is burning in Rocky Mountain National Park and has zero containment.
Rohlena said Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs will start to provide updates on the fire on its website, ccharitiescc.org.