By the end of August, the Northern California Conference (NCC) territory had been hit by 12 wildfires, unprecedented in their growth rate and intensity. “Although this has been a very challenging time for many, we praise the Lord for keeping our members safe,” said President Marc Woodson. “At the same time, we mourn with those who lost their homes.”
Caldor Fire – Leoni Meadows
Leoni Meadows staff members became aware of the Caldor Fire about three hours after it started. As it burned toward the camp, the staff evacuated horses, packed up valuables, and endeavored to protect the buildings. They used a bulldozer to cut fire lines, blew pine needles off roofs, and moved flammable items away from structures.
After leaving for safety, they—along with people around the conference and the country—prayed and waited to see what would happen. “We heard competing rumors,” said Eric Henton, Leoni’s assistant director. “Multiple people said there was nothing left.”
However, when he and other staff were able to get back to the property, they saw that most of the main buildings were still standing, including the Leoni Lodge, the Meadow View Inn, and the historic Leoni House. “We were pretty relieved,” said Henton. “God is good.”
Unfortunately, some staff members lost their homes, and the property was badly burned. “We lost between 90 and 95 percent of the growth on our 1,000 acres,” said Executive Director Craig Heinrich. (Read his story of God’s providence at right.)
“It’s a mixture of emotions—a rollercoaster,” said forestry manager Chris Pappas, who lost his home in the blaze. “We are so grateful that nobody got hurt, the horses were evacuated, and so much was saved. At the end of the day, it was a positive outcome compared to what could have been. Everyone is safe, and the core of the camp is still there.”
Caldor Fire – Placerville Area
As of this writing, 27 families from the Placerville church and El Dorado Adventist School have evacuated their homes and are waiting to see if they are still standing. The church continues to serve the evacuees, providing food and spiritual nurturing. “While this is a challenging time, people are seeing needs and doing whatever they can to bless others,” said Ed Fargusson, interim senior pastor.
In addition, 23 families from the Camino/Camino Spanish district have evacuated, including Pastor Avimael Mendoza.
As the River Fire approached, Grass Valley church Senior Pastor Jeff Richards was evacuated from his home, along with 15 other church families, some of whom lost their homes.
Grass Valley church member Shirley Grear, a Camp Fire survivor, had created a disaster response plan for the church before the fire hit. “We’ve been especially blessed by Shirley, who used her tragedy to minister to others,” said Richards. “It’s always sweet to see members rally to show God’s love to each other and the community.”
Within a few hours, the Cache Fire burned through an entire neighborhood and threatened the community of Clearlake. School had to be canceled at Clearlake SDA Christian School. Fortunately, every church and school family member evacuated safely.
Disaster Relief Fund
During the month of August, compassionate donors from around the country and Canada gave $6,963 to the NCC Disaster Relief Fund. This fund enables the NCC to give $100 to members and those connected with NCC churches and schools who must evacuate their homes. As of this writing, the conference has distributed close to $6,300, with more requested.
Communication and Development Director Laurie Trujillo wants donors to realize how much their gifts mean to those forced to evacuate. “When Dolly Milholland, teaching principal at the Clearlake school, gave $100 to one of the families from her school, they broke down in tears of gratitude,” said Trujillo. “The gift was very meaningful to a family that felt alone and uncertain about the future.”
By NCC Communication & Development Department
God’s Mercy, the Shutdown, and Firefighters
When I drove away from Leoni Meadows as the Caldor Fire advanced, I wanted to take a mental picture of my favorite place in the world!
Thinking back over the past 18 months, COVID-19, budget challenges, and now fire, I wondered what could be next. Little did I know that God had it under control the whole time.
You see, during the pandemic shutdown, the camp was closed, and I had a crew of staff that needed jobs. So, we started raking, clearing brush, and burning piles of needles and branches all over the inner part of camp. The work we did would help save Leoni Meadows.
Unbeknownst to us, fire personnel came into the camp and dug in. Using the shutdown-cleared areas around the cabins and larger buildings, they began the firefight of their lives.
Later, I heard that intense flame—at times over 100 feet in the air—roared like a freight train through camp. The firefighters held their ground.
When I was able to get back to camp to check the damage, I knew there would be nothing left. The flames had been too intense; the fire had moved way too fast to fight. I expected everything to be gone. That’s when a cheerful fireman met me at the Leoni Lodge, grinned, and said, “We saved her.”
Indeed, God’s mercy, the shutdown, and the firefighters saved the best parts of camp. The heart of the Leoni ministry, our kitchen, was perfect. The Meadow View Inn had minimal damage, and—believe it or not—16 out of 20 cabins were untouched. While much of the outpost areas, our beloved Nature Center, and the Craft Building were destroyed, the tools for ministry remain.
By Craig Heinrich