Covenant Family Loses Home to Washington Wildfire

By Stan Friedman

TWISP, WASHINGTON (July 27, 2014) — A family that attends Community Covenant Church of the Methow Valley has lost their home to the Carlton Complex fire, the largest in state’s history, Pastor Jeff Palmberg said.

The family was able to evacuate several hours before the flames destroyed the house on July 17. They were able to hear the blaze before leaving. “(The husband) said it sounded like a freight train coming down the canyon,” Palmberg said.

They were the only family in the church to lose their home. The fires got within about five miles of the church, which was forced to suspend the community-wide vacation Bible school meeting at the facility.

Twisp and several other areas had their power restored Friday after being without for eight days because fire had destroyed to major utility poles. Many other outlying areas still are without power.

Firefighters continue to battle the blaze that has destroyed some 400 square miles and 300 homes in the Methow Valley, located 180 miles northeast of Seattle.

“Everyone has been quick to come together in working to meet needs and help their neighbors,” Palmberg said.

Church member Pam Floyd was one of those who have helped. She was using her cell phone to access the Internet after the electricity was cut. She came across a Facebook post from a woman in the Seattle area who needed a contact in Methow Valley so relief trucks could transport emergency supplies.

“Pam took it upon herself to organize receiving these supplies and dozens of deliveries from around the state,” Palmberg said. “She spoke to another church and made arrangements to use their gym as a distribution center. This has been where I’ve spent the past week with other volunteers helping to distribute bottles of water, diapers, canned food, hygiene products, etc.  This is only one of the local group efforts to meet immediate needs. I’ve had a number of meetings with area pastors and community leaders seeking to work in tandem with good communication.”

Lightning sparked four separate fires July 14. Winds that gusted to 35 miles per hour drove the flames until they merged and became what has been called the Carlton Complex of fires.

Officials said firefighters have contained about 60 percent of the fire, but a new spell of hot and dry weather and could make battling the blaze more difficult.

The fire has made sudden shifts at times. One couple who had a hunting cabin in the area told Palmberg that the fire had come right up to the edge of the property before changing direction.

On the Sunday after the fire, more than a half hour of the service was dedicated to letting people share their stories. “They really needed the chance to communicate,” Palmberg said, noting that Internet and phone service had been cut off. The congregation then spent about 30 minutes praying.

Today’s service was more like regular services, Palmberg said, but added, “People are still in shock.”

Many of the residents are suffering “a sort of survivor’s guilt, a kind of remorse,” Palmberg said.

A number of churches have asked Palmberg how they can help and what they can send. “At this point we don’t need any additional items,” he said. “What is needed is money. This will allow us to purchase the specific items needed while also supporting the local businesses that have been financially impacted by the fires as well. “

The scenic region is a popular tourist site, and many of the businesses depend on the visitors. “This is a huge hit to them,” Palmberg said.

He noted that a large percentage of the people who live in the area subsist on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis.  “Even for those who did not lose a home, the fires have disrupted their income sending them into a downward trajectory.”

The easiest way for churches to offer financial aid to help with the long-term recovery is to send a check made out to “Community Covenant Church” with the notation “Fire Recovery” to the church: PO Box 919, Twisp, WA 98856.

“Our benevolence fund will then pass on this money to The Cove, a local Christian nonprofit, or other on-the-ground organizations meeting urgent needs most effectively,” he said.

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About the Author

Edward is an award-winning journalist and author. Besides being the executive minister of Communication at The Evangelical Covenant Church, he is author of Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church and Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity. Ed’s mission, both professionally and personally, is to be a bridge-builder, bringing people together across racial, denominational, and cultural lines.

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