The strong and unpredictable winds in southern California have continued to fuel wildfires which have now consumed over 250,000 acres and remains at just 35% containment. These fires, the largest of which is the Thomas Fire, have already destroyed over 1,000 structures and thousands more are being threatened by the intense Santa Ana winds which are expected to escalate the fire this weekend. This is the third largest fire in California history, and has caused widespread devastation that will take years to rebuild. 

The high winds have now placed the Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in a voluntary evacuation area as of December 16, 2017. Parish priest, Rev. Father Haralambos Fox, removed several sacred vessels last week out of an abundance of caution, and is returning to the church today to obtain other items. In order to not interfere with firefighting efforts and not place any parishioners in danger, Divine Liturgy for Sunday, December 17 in Santa Barbara is cancelled, but parishioners are encouraged to attend services at Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Camarillo, CA.

“The devastation that continues to cover this significant area is most distressing. Fire is so unpredictable and no one is safe when the winds are as volatile as they have been,” stated His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos. “While the conditions may be out of our control, what we can do is pray that Our Almighty God may bring comfort and peace to all those suffering, and strength to all the fire fighters and law enforcement officials who are risking their lives for the safekeeping of others.”

Many parishioners in the communities of Camarillo and Santa Barbara, California remain under evacuation with several families from Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Camarillo having lost all or part of their homes and belongings in this tragedy. The threat of more damage and destruction remains high due to the low containment of these fires.

Rev. Father Gary Kyriacou from Saint Demetrios has started an online donation site to assist the families from his parish as they work to rebuild their lives and homes. Especially during this holiday season, this is a very difficult time and the generosity of our faithful is most appreciated.

Several clergy in the Metropolis are first responders with the International Orthodox Christian Charities. They are providing support in their local communities and will continue to work with IOCC to respond with pastoral support to their parishioners and the surrounding communities as the situation remains volatile at this time. In more recent days, one firefighter lost his life while battling these intense fires, and we pray for the eternal rest of the soul of Cory Iverson, and beseech the Lord that He may bring comfort and solace to the grieving hearts of his young family.

Photo Credit: Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire