By Devin Watkins
Northern and Central California are suffering under the acrid smoke and threatening flames of two dozen active wildfires.
Two of those are the second and third largest wildfires ever recorded in the US state’s history. Both are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area, where over 200,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.
At least seven people have lost their lives over the past week, which has seen some 650 different fires. Around 700 homes and businesses have been destroyed.
Firefighters from across the US are joining in battling the blazes. Fire engines and crews have arrived from Texas, Arizona, Montana, Nevada, and Utah.
President Donald Trump freed up federal funds to help Californians in the seven counties affected by the fires, declaring a major disaster on Saturday.
Lightning strikes from a series of dry thunderstorms ignited most of the wildfires.
Praying for those affected
As the flames lick at many doors, the Catholic Bishop of San Jose, Bishop Oscar Cantú is inviting everyone to unite in prayer for the people of California.
One fire, known as the SCU Lightning Complex, is menacing parts of Bishop Cantú’s diocese, and is the third-largest wildfire on record. It has burned 339,000 acres, and was only 10% contained as of Sunday.
In a statement, Bishop Cantú praised firefighters and first responders for “braving high heat and unpredictable firestorms across difficult terrain, often at great personal sacrifice, to defend lives and property.”
“The toxic smoke chokes our air and our lungs,” he lamented.
Fiercer than any fire
But, said Bishop Cantú, Californians are not alone.
“God is with us,” he said. “He is our refuge and strength, especially in moments of darkness. His love for us is fiercer than any fire, stronger than any disease, steadier than the unknown.”
He asked all Catholics to pray for affected families and those working to battle the blazes.
“Let us shine the light of His love by helping those who may need food, shelter, or a compassionate ear,” he said.
Bishop Cantú noted that some of the diocese’s schools and parishes lie close to where the fires are burning.
They are working to help affected parishioners in whatever way possible, he said.
“Let us never forget,” said Bishop Cantú, “that with Jesus Christ, all things are possible.”