SANTA ROSA, Calif. (CNS) --
The Diocese of Santa Rosa "has been hit hard" and "is in an ongoing state of
uncertainty" because of Northern California wildfires that began
the night of Oct. 8, said Bishop Robert F. Vasa.
At least 12 major fires were raging across the region, according to
news reports. Of those 12, at least five were zero to 5 percent
contained, and the rest were 15 to 70 percent contained. Fanned by warm
winds, they devastated a vast swath of
North California's wine country and forced 20,000 to evacuate. They left
least 23 people dead, and hundreds of others were missing.
"Santa Rosa is extremely
smoky with the sun a mere red ball," the bishop said in an Oct. 10 statement.
He also noted that for the many hundreds who have lost their homes, "the sense
of great helplessness is palpable."
A CNN report noted how fast-moving the fires are, saying they
"torched 20,000 acres in 12 hours." Local civic authorities said factors
contributed to the rapid spread of the flames included dry conditions,
high-speed winds and lots of vegetation.
Over 17 fires were
burning across the state, including in Southern California; more than 115,000
acres had burned.
In a statement Oct. 12, the chairman of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops' domestic policy committee called for
prayer for all impacted by the fires. "Today
we ask for the intercession of Almighty God as wildfires rage in
California," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, quoting
from Verse 10, from Isaiah 41. "Do not fear: I am with you; do not be
anxious. I am your God."
"As brave men and
women respond to these disasters, battling the fires and helping people to
safety, we call upon God for improved weather, for the blessing of rain and
favorable winds, to assist them," the bishop said. "We pray that those who are missing or
are still in harm's way will be found and protected. May God grant eternal rest
to those who have died, and bring them into glory with him forever."
He also prayed "for
generosity, care, and concern from neighbors and surrounding communities for those
who are grieving and displaced."
Bishop Dewane acknowledged that
the natural disasters and other calamities the nation has endured as of
late have left many feeling weary, but "we know that God
cannot be outdone in generosity and charity". he prayed God would
provide all "with new
wellsprings of love" to help those "hurting so deeply today."
In Santa Rosa, Bishop Vasa reported that
most of the parishes in the diocese were fine but that a Catholic
high school and elementary school that share a campus suffered serious
damage. Early reports indicated that "a significant portion" of the high school
had been destroyed.
After Cardinal Newman
High School officials were able to assess the damage, they reported that the
news was better than first thought and that most of the high school's
facilities, including the chapel and retreat center, were "unscathed."
However, they verified
that the library, the main office building and portable buildings that housed
several classrooms were lost. Another classroom building suffered roof damage
and some of its windows were blown out. Of the athletic facilities, the school's
baseball infield and dugouts were damaged.
The diocesan chancery
also was "in the heart of a severely fire damaged part of the city but
fortunately was entirely spared," Bishop Vasa said in his statement, but it was
being used as an evacuation center and would remain closed to diocesan staff "for
the unforeseeable future."
"So I am currently
working from my car and trying to visit a few of the evacuation centers,"
the bishop said.
"In the city, they
estimate that 1,500 homes and businesses have been lost," he continued. "I have
met numerous folks who are in shelters and who have no home to which to return.
The sense of great helplessness is palpable.
extends to the caregivers who know that short term solutions are necessary but
also severely inadequate to meet the long-term needs."
The six-county Diocese of
Santa Rose includes four of the counties hit hard by the fires -- Sonoma, Napa,
Lake and Mendocino counties. Bishop Vasa called on all Catholics of the
diocese to help their brothers and sisters who "have been severely impacted by
the devastating fires and are in immediate need of your prayers. Please do not
hesitate to offer your help though ongoing prayer, donations, and emotional
"You may even be inspired
to offer your home to a family who has lost everything. Simply imagine yourself
and your family going through what many are experiencing now in reality, and
act accordingly," he advised.
Bishop Vasa said he would
try to send occasional updates to the people of the diocese. "I appreciate the
outpouring of concern and especially prayers. When people ask how they can help,
I answer that I really do not know. I do know that prayers are the greatest
source of solace and help."
"My heart and prayers go
out to all this displaced by the fire, especially those who have lost their
homes," he said. "I am extremely grateful to all the caregivers who have
reached out so generously to your brothers and sisters in need."
He added: "We all need to
recognize that this is a long-term recovery and we are not yet done with the
active fires. There is always need for ardent, consistent and devout prayers. I
know that we can all count on you for this as well."
In a letter to the
Cardinal Newman High School community, church officials said that until further
notice, all students, families and staff "are to stay away from the campus as
it is in the evacuation zone and the site is not safe."
School officials were
working on a way to hold classes in another location, suggesting they might
come up with a "hybrid" solution, offering some classes online. They invited
families from the high school and St. Rose Elementary School to an evening
meeting Oct. 12 on the "state of the schools" to share information and "how we
plan to go forward."
"We continue to pray for
our families and our community who have suffered during this time, especially
those who have lost their homes, business and have been displaced due to
evacuation," the letter said. "May God's grace give you peace in this challenging