PARADISE, Calif.—A rapidly moving wildfire destroyed a large number of buildings in Paradise, California, Thursday as it raced through the mountain community, taking Calvary Baptist Church with it. Paradise is located about 85 miles north of Sacramento.
The Camp Fire broke out Thursday morning and covered 11 miles in the first 11 hours. It was consuming 80 acres per minute.
Regular Baptist Builders Club has established an emergency Disaster Relief fund called California Fires, which is accepting donations to help this church and its members.
Calvary Baptist Pastor Gerry Zordel and his wife, Kristy, called the GARBC Resource Center Friday afternoon while on the road after evacuating their home in the nearby town of Magalia. “It looks like a war zone!” he said. “When we left this morning the fire was 300 feet from our house, and it was coming from two different directions. The smoke was so oppressive. We looked out our window and saw the flames. We threw a few things in our car, but we didn’t get much.” Twenty thousand people were forced to evacuate the community of 26,000.
Friday morning Pastor Zordel and his wife tried making contact with everyone from their church. “We found out that every person we talked to lost their home,” he said. “A lot of people in this community are going to be homeless.” Most of the church members lived in Paradise and Magalia, both located about 85 miles north of Sacramento. Calvary Baptist has about 50 members.
Before fleeing the area, the Zordels drove past their church. “To see the church flattened was so sad,” he said, noting that only the shell of the gutted gymnasium was still standing. In their escape, the Zordels said they had to drive through a dangerous area where the fire was still burning homes on both sides of the road, and they had to dodge fallen trees on the highway. The Zordels are on their way to their daughter’s home in Pacifica until residents are allowed to return. “Paradise is currently under quarantine,” he said. “You can leave, but you can’t go back in.”
Kristy Zordel said her biggest concern is care for their church family. “My biggest prayer right now is, How are we going to take care of these people?” she said. “We don’t even have a church where they can sleep and where we can feed them. As a church, we need to pull together and take care of each other, but we don’t know how to do that.” Pastor Zordel said he would contact the GARBC Resource Center after he finds out the specific needs are of his church family.
Pastor Zordel is asking that people not forget their church when the next crisis comes. “We need a long period of prayer as we rebuild a whole community and our church,” he said. “If people could commit to six months or a year of prayer, that would be helpful and encouraging to us.”
While the church was an older structure, Pastor Zordel said the church recently spent about $50,000 updating the church offices, educational building, and gymnasium for a charter school that is using the facility.
California Association of Regular Baptist Churches State Representative Bruce McLain sent out a state association alert Thursday night requesting prayer for Pastor Zordel and his church family. McLain said he talked to Pastor Zordel Friday morning as well as some church trustees.
Calvary Baptist Trustee Chairman Ron Hutto found out Friday morning that his church burned after viewing a video on Facebook. “In the video you see that the main sanctuary and the education building are completely destroyed,” he said. “Part of the gymnasium is still standing.”
Hutto said he had been in touch with four or five church families. “They told me they got in cars and got out as fast they as they could. At this point, the fire is ongoing. Nobody can get up there.”
Another Calvary Baptist trustee, Dale Copper, who lives about 18 miles southwest of Paradise in Durham, said his town lies directly in the fire’s path. “We are under an evacuation warning,” he said. “We are ready to leave. It’s a bad situation.”