Erika Yanez, director of media relations with the Diocese of Monterey, told CNA that a number of their parishes had already been evacuated.
“All of Dalton, Boulder Creek, Davenport,...the entire community of Scotts Valley has been evacuated,” she said. “There's a huge portion of Carmel Valley that's been evacuated, we have a parish there.”
A photo of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic parish in Davenport, taken by a community member, shows the air around the church glowing bright orange as the flames encroached.
Yanez said there is a retreat center in San Juan Bautista, Calif., that has opened up to shelter families - though in a slightly restricted way, because of COVID-19 - and that the diocese will be coordinating with Catholic Charities to offer further assistance.
“I just wanted to make sure that everyone knows that our prayers are with the families that are being impacted right now. It's just so difficult,” Yanez said.
Fr. Blaise Berg is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Vacaville in the Diocese of Sacramento, which evacuated on Tuesday and Wednesday. Some residents of the town told CNN that screams woke them up in the middle of the night - a jarring alert that the fires were near.
“Presently, we are reaching out by phone to our parishioners who live in the fire’s burn zone. A number of homes were spared, but a few of our parishioners’ homes were not,” Berg said. By Friday, he noted, many people had been allowed to return.
“Our parochial vicar, Fr. Steven Wood, visited a nearby evacuation center and many evacuees were grateful to see the presence of the Church,” Berg said.
The priest asked for prayers, noting that the community was expecting more possible lightning storms this weekend, and that they had to be prepared to evacuate again.
“At a time like this, we see the importance of prayer, and so we ask all our brothers and sisters to keep in their daily prayers those affected by these fires across the entire state of California,” he said.
Cynthia Shaw, director of communications for the Diocese of San Jose, said the diocese was surrounded by the wildfires.
Some parishioners were located in evacuation zones, and more could be evacuating in the coming days. Shaw said the diocese, in cooperation with Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, and local food banks, will continue to monitor the situation and will work to provide food and shelter and to keep people updated on evacuation zones and other resources.
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She added that people are being asked to stay inside and wear masks now not only because of the coronavirus pandemic, but because of the poor air quality caused by smoke, which could also disrupt plans for outdoor Masses this weekend.
“We're just praying mightily also for the firefighters and the first responders. They have a great amount of work to do and we just pray that no one else loses their lives or gets injured in all of the fires,” Shaw said.
Poor air quality was one of the biggest concerns for the Diocese of Stockton as well, Chandler Marquez, the director of communications for the diocese, told CNA.
“There's a lot of migrant farm workers and those farm workers are already heavily impacted by COVID-19,” Marquez said. “So on top of that...it's harvest season for a lot of the crops out here and they're taking in these conditions (and) it's only going to make matters worse for them,” he said.
Greg Kidder knows a little too well what it’s like to survive a large wildfire - his home in Paradise, California was destroyed in the massive 2018 Camp Fire, which caused at least 85 deaths and destroyed most of his hometown. Kidder’s parish, St. Thomas More in Paradise, also burned down - except for the sanctuary.
“Our sanctuary survived. But we did lose 50% of our buildings, mainly our social hall and rectory, and youth house,” Kidder told CNA.