Wildfires, Drought, Extreme Heat
In the Bible
Like heat in a dry place (Isaiah 25:5a).
Our skin is hot as an oven with the burning heat of famine (Lamentations 5:10).
Drought and heat snatch away the snow waters (Job 24:19a).
As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane! (Psalm 83:14-15).
The Lord will strike you with … fiery heat, and with drought … (Deuteronomy 28:22).
In the News
Heat-related severe weather events such as wildfires, droughts, and extreme heat affect churches in the impacted areas. Churches also minister to those suffering from these events.
Magalia, California, November 9, 2018 - A church building survived a firestorm with 30 people inside whose route out of town was blocked. Several features of the structure and its setting spared it while surrounding businesses and homes were incinerated.
Paradise, California, November 9, 2018 - The same wildfire which swept over Magalia, destroyed most church buildings in nearby Paradise. Even though their buildings were destroyed by the Camp Fire in 2018, the congregations held together. Since then, many have rebuilt or are rebuilding using more fire-resistant designs and materials. However, some of the fire-resistant measures may be too expensive for many.
Petaluma, California, October and November 2019 - A church in Petaluma responded to a request for help by providing shelter to people displaced by wildfires north of the city. Their care of the temporary homeless led to effective evangelism.
California, Australia, and other places suffering wildfires, 2018, 2019 - Many churches in North America and Australia are helping those who have been displaced or otherwise hurt by wildfires. Besides Lutherans and Catholics, there are many other church groups helping.
United States, February 11, 2020 - The "United States Drought Monitor Map" by the National Drought Mitigation Center shows areas with severe drought and extreme drought. The Texas severe drought area includes Austin, where dry conditions persist even after five days of light rain.
Western States and Plains States, 2015 - After three or four years of drought in states from the Great Plains to the West Coast, reservoirs and water tables were low and vegetation was drying up. This affected agriculture, wildlife, forestry, and urban water supplies.
Churches had to deal with the situation along with everyone else. After all, God sends sunshine and rain to believers and unbelievers alike. A common response was prayer. As David Hart said in the Union Sportsman, "Food prices are up, water tables are down, and churches throughout the west are filled with voices praying for rain."
Across the country, Megan Sweas writes in The Yale ISM Review about how different religious traditions respond to drought. Some are fatalistic, some plead for help, and Christians and Jews trust God for the outcome, seek forgiveness for any sins committed, and help their neighbors.
Painter, Virginia, July 20, 2019 - Among many closures and canceled events due to extreme heat on the East Shore was a church's Community Picnic.
U.S. Farmlands, Summer 2019 - Farmers faced extreme heat following flooding. One person was quoted as saying, "We've never seen a year like this. It's been so hard… But we see people coming together, churches offering prayer services for farmers and coming together to support each other." 
Special Resource for Severe Weather and Natural Disasters
We need to be prepared to respond to severe weather and disasters (natural and human-caused). This is the focus of March's article series. The topics of this article on heat-related weather hazards are:
- Extreme Heat
First, you need to know about our download - "Emergency Supply List Recommendations (Essential supplies to have on hand in a disaster or emergency event)." To receive this free download, click here.
Heat-Related Weather Hazards
Wildfires, drought, and extreme heat are weather hazards related to heat. Each has to be addressed in its own way, according to how they affect us and our communities. Churches and congregants are both targets of the hazards and agents of mercy during duress, as is shown in the news stories.
Several churches in Sevier County, Tennessee, were destroyed or damaged by the Smokey Mountains wildfire of 2017. A year later, more than twice as many churches in Butte County, California, most of them in Paradise, were burned down by the Camp Fire, which became a firestorm in which at least 89 persons perished.
These events raised awareness of making buildings fire-resistant. There were churches in both Tennessee and California which survived firestorms. The key to this was both construction and landscaping. The choices made when the churches were built were probably more about cost than fire safety. One Tennessee church was built of cement blocks, and one in California had fire-resistant siding. Both had metal roofs and no vents open to the outside. Both have open areas around the buildings, mainly for parking. Neither one had outer wood structures, such as a deck or steps.
Some homes were saved by owners who used garden hoses to keep the exteriors of the structures wet.
In California, the non-combustible siding and metal roof cost less than the more fashionable cedar shake shingles and wood siding. In Tennessee, the cement blocks did not need siding. We could consider fire-resistant construction as a matter of good stewardship. However, as happened in Magalia, CA, these choices literally protected the flock, making it a matter of safety.
A year after the Camp Fire, a church further south served as a shelter for many people displaced by another fire. Several churches in Tennessee in 2017 served as shelters - some of these had to be closed as the fire approached. The kindness shown by the church in Petaluma, CA, was an in-kind testimony, with many responding to the Gospel. This shows us the opportunities for evangelism inherent in showing genuine love and mercy to those in need because of a severe weather event.
Someone may come to the church with burns or injuries incurred while escaping from or fighting the fire. Do you have the supplies and knowledge to treat these?
Drought is not something we normally consider unless we are in a drought-prone area. But if we do see a drought coming, what can we do besides praying? For one thing, the church could have bottled water on hand. This can be used to prevent or treat dehydration. It could also be used to provide an emergency supply of water to someone whose water supply has stopped (of course this is a temporary solution unless the church can afford to do it long-term).
Drought brings community water-use restrictions. The local church ought to be a good citizen of the community by using water wisely. Letting the flowers outside wither instead of using precious water can be a good witness during a drought. Also, an unwatered lawn usually perks up after rain has returned.
Common health problems during extreme heat are heat exhaustion and heatstroke. As a church, we need to both prevent heat exhaustion and be ready to treat it. Outside, the best protection is shade. This depends on the size and layout of the church and its setting on the property.
Some churches have outside pavilions for picnics and other events. Shades on the sunward side can reduce the heat hazard to a large degree. Shades can be hung on the sunny sides of covered porches and drop-off areas. However, when the temperature and humidity are too high, this may not be enough.
Keep posted as to forecast temperatures. An outdoor event may have to be canceled or postponed. We do not want to endanger people, especially those more vulnerable. Unless your church's cooling system can handle the projected temperatures, a class or service may have to be canceled or rescheduled for another day or the evening. It's OK to pull down shades during extreme heat to keep the building cooler.
Be alert to signs of heat exhaustion. We do not want it to progress to heatstroke. Be ready to respond. The first response is to remove the person from the heat by bringing them inside or into the shade. Loosen tight clothing. Use moving air and wet cloths or ice packs to cool them down.
Give them water for rehydration. Don't force it down on them. Start them sipping water or sucking on ice cubes. After a while, they can drink more. Use electrolyte drinks (or mixes) to prevent electrolyte loss. This is in addition to the water.
Know which heat-related weather hazards are more prevalent in your area and be ready to protect the church and the people, whether wildfires, drought, or extreme heat threatens. Also, be ready to minister to others in the community.
There Is More
There are five articles in this series on Severe Weather and Disasters. Besides this one are "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over" (Winter, That Is), "Twisting in the Wind" (Tornadoes, Thunderstorms, and Lightning), "Human Error" (Disasters Caused by People), and "Tectonic Terror" (Earthquakes and Volcanic Activity),
- Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses, "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters" --
- Training Bundle (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters-training-bundle];
- Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters].
- Will Maule, "'We Were Totally Unscathed': Pastor Recalls Miraculous Wildfire Survival Despite Church Group Being Surrounded By Raging Inferno," CBN, November 15, 2018 [https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2018/november/lsquo-we-were-totally-unscathed-rsquo-pastor-recalls-miraculous-wildfire-survival-despite-church-group-being-surrounded-by-raging-inferno].
- Kate Shellnutt, "Paradise Fire Burned Most Church Buildings, But 'the Church Is Still Alive', Christianity Today, November 16, 2018 [https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/november/paradise-california-churches-camp-fire-revival.html].
- Laura Newberry, "Paradise rebuilds, but fire safety sometimes takes a back seat to economic realities," Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2019 [https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-11-08/rebuilding-paradise-one-year-after-camp-fire].
- Karen L. Willoughby, "Church responds to wildfire, victims respond to Gospel," Baptist Press, November 1, 2019 [http://www.bpnews.net/53856/church-responds-to-wildfire-victims-respond-to-gospel].
- Anon, "U.S. Wildfires," Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, n/d (late 2019) [https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran- Disaster-Response/Our-Impact/US-Wildfires].
- Contributor (Catholic News Service), "L.A. Archdiocese expands fund for Southern California wildfire victims," Crux, October 17, 2019 [https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2019/10/l-a-archdiocese-expands-fund-for-southern-california-wildfire-victims/].
- Compiled by Richard Tinker, NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC (United States and Puerto Rico) and Curtis Riganti, National Drought Mitigation Center (U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands and Virgin Islands), "United States Drought Monitor (Data valid: February 11, 2020)," National Drought Mitigation Center - University of Nebraska-Lincoln, February 13, 2020 [https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/].
- American-Statesman Staff, "Austin dries out, but did rainy days make a dent in drought?" The Statesman, February 12, 2020 [https://www.statesman.com/news/20200212/austin-dries-out-but-did-rainy-days-make-dent-in-drought].
- David Hart, "Extended Drought Slams Wildlife," The Union Sportsmen's Alliance, n/d [http://unionsportsmen.org/extended-drought-slams-wildlife/].
- Megan Sweas, "Praying for Rain in the California Drought," The Yale ISM Review, Volume 2.1 Fall 2015 [http://ismreview.yale.edu/article/praying-for-rain-in-the-california-drought/].
- Shore Daily News (E Shore VA), July 19, 2019 [https://shoredailynews.com/closings-delays/the-onancock-market-is-concerned-for-the-welfare-of-its-customers-and-vendors-during-the-extreme-heat-thats-expected-this-weekend-therefore-the-market-will-reduce-its-hours-to-9-to-11am-this/].
- Emma Newburger, "It never stops': US farmers now face extreme heatwave after floods and trade war," CNBC, July 20, 2019 [https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/19/extreme-heat-wave-hits-us-farmers-already-suffering-from-flooding.html].
- Kris Moloney, "Emergency Supply List Recommendations (Essential supplies to have on hand in a disaster or emergency event)," Sheepdog Church Security, Resources, [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters].