“Californians Salvage Faith from Ashes, Rubble,” Ensign, Sept. 1990, 78
Santa Barbara stake president Jerald Haws and his wife had lived in their home for twenty years. They had reared their family in it. But when the flames came, they had only ten minutes to get out.
They were among fourteen families in the stake—on the Pacific coast northwest of Los Angeles—who lost their homes in a wildfire that swept through the Santa Barbara area beginning June 27.
Approximately seventy-five miles away, in the urban area north of Los Angeles, two homes belonging to members of the Glendale California Stake were also burned, and the home of a third member family was damaged.
Wildfires burned out of control in six different areas of Southern California during the last days of June and the first few days of July. Two people were killed (neither of them Church members), and more than five hundred homes were destroyed.
Like other residents whose homes were in the path of the fires, President Haws and his wife fought to salvage what they could. He was on the roof, putting out blazes caused by embers from a neighbor’s burning house, when he looked around at fire advancing on three sides of his own home and decided it was time to get out.
Leaving “was the toughest thing I’ve ever gone through,” he said. As he and his wife drove away, “there were flames on both sides of the road. When I got out of there, I felt lucky to be alive.”
Other members expressed similar feelings of gratitude. Dawn Hills, a surgeon who practices in the Glendale area, recalled that about five months ago, “I felt a prompting that something would change in my life and that I should prepare myself spiritually.” A week and a half before the fire, that feeling came again.
The day of the fire, she was not able to get to her home in time to salvage anything. But, looking at the charred debris, she recalled the spiritual comfort that came when she first saw what had happened.
“I have no problem handling the material losses” because of “the support system I have had,” Sister Hills commented. “I have had the most incredible outpouring of love—not only from the Church, but from my professional colleagues as well.”
Church members affected by the fires were quickly housed in homes offered by other members, family, or friends. People of every religious persuasion showed a spirit of helpfulness to their neighbors, often sacrificing personal means or comfort to help those who had lost nearly everything.
Latter-day Saints were involved in disaster relief in many ways. In Santa Barbara, a stake emergency plan originally developed in case of earthquake proved invaluable. Approximately sixty members stayed overnight at the stake center, relying on emergency supplies there. The stake’s amateur radio net helped direct volunteers to spots where help was needed and helped maintain communication among stake leaders and members.
Church leaders in the affected areas report that Latter-day Saints continue to help neighbors clean up and rebuild.