Out of the Ashes
August 2000

“Out of the Ashes,” Ensign, Aug. 2000, 78–79

Out of the Ashes

Homes of 11 Latter-day Saint families were destroyed and two other member homes were significantly damaged when a forest fire, started by the National Park Service to remove dry undergrowth, raged out of control in the Los Alamos, New Mexico, area in May. Fortunately, no one was injured, and displaced families of the Los Alamos and White Rock Wards, Santa Fe New Mexico Stake, have been blessed by an outpouring of support and assistance from their community and from surrounding Church members.

Connie Johnson of the Los Alamos Ward chokes up whenever she speaks of the love and help she and her family of eight have been given since they lost their home to the blaze. “Our home teacher and his wife cleared out of their home and said we could live there for a year until our house is rebuilt,” she says. “We feel so grateful. I mean, this is home teaching to the ‘nth’ degree.”

The Johnsons’ home teacher, Al Schofield, and his wife, Gaye, say they’ll pass the year staying near and working in the Albuquerque New Mexico Temple and visiting their children and grandchildren in other states.

Such charity has been typical in the face of the disaster. When residents of Los Alamos and White Rock were hurriedly evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night, many Latter-day Saints who fled these communities gathered at the Santa Fe stake center, where other members of the stake were there to greet them and invite them to stay in their homes.

When Church members in the Albuquerque area heard of the plight of the Los Alamos Saints, they quickly pulled together their resources and sent a truckload of food, water, clothing, bedding, and toiletries to the Santa Fe stake center. “They had even sorted the clothing for gender and size,” says President H. Thomas Blair, first counselor in the Santa Fe stake presidency. “Everyone’s needs were more than met.” President Blair said that extra bottled water was donated to local firefighters and extra food donated to a community food bank.

“The amount of support from the community and from Church members has been absolutely phenomenal,” said Kenneth Spencer, bishop of the Los Alamos Ward. “There is still a room at the meetinghouse filled with clothing, household items, and blankets. Members have held bake sales to raise money for displaced families.” Los Alamos Ward Relief Society president Patricia Peterson says Relief Society sisters are planning “kitchen showers” for members who lost their homes.

Since the end of May, when the huge fire—which torched nearly 50,000 acres and 260 homes—was mostly contained, Latter-day Saints have joined each Saturday with the fire department and other community members to help revegetate the area. To avoid the possibility of massive flooding, volunteers have turned over blackened soil and then planted grass seed so that the burnt ground can absorb the moisture that comes with the rainy season in June and July. “I’ve had Church leaders from surrounding stakes in New Mexico and neighboring states call, offering manpower to assist with the cleanup effort,” said President Blair. “It’s been very gratifying.”

In a recent fast and testimony meeting in the Los Alamos Ward, members who had lost all their possessions—and those who thought they might lose their possessions when they were evacuated—expressed their gratitude for the gospel and the eternal perspective it brings. In sharing her testimony, Sister Johnson said, “When something like this happens to you, you realize that material things don’t matter. Only the gospel and your family are eternal.”

After a New Mexico fire destroyed 260 homes and 50,000 acres, members joined with others to help those who lost their homes. They also helped sandbag and revegetate forest areas to prevent flooding that can come after forest destruction. (Photography by John McHale and Shaun Hudson, Los Alamos Monitor.)