Mosquito Fire, Northern California

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Faith Through the Mosquito Fire: Calvary Chapels Threatened but Secure in God's Hands

Story by Margot Bass

Two small Calvary Chapels in Northern California have escaped the Mosquito Fire currently raging in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Despite the dangers and mandatory evacuations, the pastors—Jay McCarl of Calvary Georgetown Divide in Greenwood and Dan Cordova of Calvary Chapel Foresthill—are deeply grateful to God for His protection.

As of Friday, according to Cal Fire, the 106-square-mile blaze, fueled by dry conditions, became the largest fire in the state and has consumed almost 70,000 acres. Only 20% contained, it has destroyed at least 70 structures and forced nearly 11,000 residents to flee for safety.

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A large smoke column from the Foresthill, CA, area is visible from nearby Auburn on Thursday afternoon, September 8. Foresthill was deeply affected by the Mosquito Fire in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The blaze, fueled by dry conditions in California, has consumed almost 70,000 acres and approximately 70 structures. Photo by Dan Cordova

Twice Saved
For Dan Cordova, the fire came much too close for comfort—not just once but twice.

“Our house in Foresthill was in line of the fire, right off the bat. The fire started right down the hill from us and moved up toward us rapidly,” Dan recalled, describing the Wednesday night the Mosquito fire started. He and his family didn’t know at first there was a fire, only realizing it after going to a local store for snacks after they lost their electricity. On the way home, they saw the fire in the ravine. Returning home, they packed up some belongings and left, not waiting for an official evacuation warning. “Through the trees, I could see a red glow before we left,” he recounted.

The next morning, Dan returned to the area to help a lady move her horses. He acknowledged, “I just wanted to see how things were going, so I went up to the house. All I could see was a column of smoke rising just behind the tree line up to my right and billowing over the house. OK, say goodbye to the house, I thought.” As time passed, they waited for bad news.

But God.

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Firefighters use their helmets to shield themselves from backfire, flames lit by firefighters to burn off vegetation, while battling the Mosquito Fire in the Volcanoville community of El Dorado County, CA, on September 9. California pastors Jay McCarl of Calvary Georgetown Divide in Greenwood and Dan Cordova of CC Foresthill urge believers to intercede for these firefighters. “Just pray for these guys who are working incredibly hard, right on the fire line. I know a number of them, plus the fire commander goes to our church. A lot of them know the Lord, a lot of them don’t. The work they have to do in this area is extreme,” Jay shared. AP Photo/Noah Berger

His house was spared from the blaze just over a half-mile away. “The fire was basically redirected, by wind more than anything else. That was our first miracle, I guess, just watching that thing redirect back away from our house. It created a kind of a firebreak, a protective fire footprint, ever since then to give us safety throughout this whole thing.” Several church members reported similar experiences of this “shocking protection,” Dan observed. “So far everyone’s OK, in homes with relatives or in hotels. Everybody has found a place to stay.”

Dan and his family anticipated returning home soon—and the church was safe.

A few days later, by the afternoon of September 13, Dan reported, that sense of security and comfort was tested again. “The fire just broke the line and shot up, mostly north, toward the church. My thought was, We’re losing the church. I’m not going to have a ministry. How are we going to meet? How is this going to work? Meanwhile, the fire moved closer to Calvary Chapel Foresthill, burning a couple hundred acres along the way. On a newscast filmed at the church building and the high school next to it, a woman described the rapidly advancing fire—against the backdrop of orange flames.

In fact, it would advance to within 150 feet of the buildings. “There were people onsite at the church, basically running around putting out fires from cinders coming back down. That’s how close it got."

Dan rejoiced, “We found out pretty shortly afterward that the whole thing had stopped, that the fire had redirected—thanks to the Lord, thanks to fire crews, and the changing winds. As far as I know, all three are standing and in perfect condition now.” It may be October before Dan and his neighbors are allowed to return home.

I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

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On Wednesday, September 7, Pastor Dan Cordova learned that the Mosquito Fire was encroaching close to his home. As he evacuated his family to nearby Auburn, he took this photo of the burgeoning blaze from a local market. Photo by Dan Cordova

Standing in the Fire
Some who had to evacuate Foresthill attend Calvary Georgetown Divide. Pastor Jay McCarl shared that their houses are undamaged. “The fire is still burning in a large residential and heavily forested community in Todd Valley, west of Foresthill,” he said. “The goal for firefighters is to stop that line of fire right there—so far so good. Temperatures have dropped into the 70s, the humidity’s higher, and everybody’s a lot happier about it.” He described the danger—the fire moving farther west down the canyon where firefighters can’t access steep walls covered by forest.

Jay’s home in Cool, CA, is under a “yellow” warning—not yet requiring evacuation. His church, however, is in the middle of an evacuation zone. “The church and half our people remain exiles from our ‘red zone’ and cannot return until the zone turns yellow,” he explained on social media this week. The fire got within eight miles of the church, Jay observed, and within a mile of the homes of some members.

Jay, a former law enforcement chaplain, travelled on Thursday with a Cal Fire line commander—a man who attends his church—to a nearby community in the fire zone to check on the homes of two church members.

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When Pastor Dan Cordova returned to his neighborhood on Thursday, September 8, he saw this smoke column looming behind his house, from his front yard. Fearing he might lose his home, yet trusting God, he waited for bad news. But God intervened, sparing the house from the blaze just over a half-mile away. Photo by Dan Cordova

Separation from the Flock
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3

“I’m not worried about my house burning down, even if it were threatened. I’m not worried about the church building burning down—God will take care of that, too, if it happened,” Jay assured. But he admitted that he has a “holy anxiousness” to get back together with his congregation. “I’m really, really missing everybody. People are starved for fellowship. I’m hungry for fellowship.”

The fire has showed him that the local church is important, especially in extremely rural, spread-out areas like his. “Although the church is not the building, I’m beginning to realize how important the building is to our culture. It becomes a place to hang out and connect with people, where they go for comfort, prayer, even for food in our case.” The church holds a food giveaway every Tuesday, and it’s on hold right now. “It’s a little frustrating not to be able to get back into church because it’s a community hub.” He added with a laugh, “Not having that available, it feels like both feet are firmly planted in mid-air, and I don’t mean the Rapture.”

Communication is confusing and difficult right now, Jay noted. “When they called a mandatory evacuation, everybody scattered all over the place. All I can do is post an occasional update on Facebook or church website about the evacuation status, because nobody knows what’s happening around their homes or area.” Although the building is closed, he is still posting his services online.

Everyone has had to scatter, so his church body has been unable to take care of each other physically, Jay related. Because most live in the “red zone,” they can’t house anybody. “They know how to take care of each other. So, the weird thing about this whole incident is that everyone’s hands have been tied by this natural catastrophe. The bulk of the people who would normally exercise tremendous hospitality have been run out of their own homes." His church family is patient, he said. “They know that this is life in California, especially in this part of California. We’re used to getting used to these things on a smaller scale; this is a much larger fire.”

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The Mosquito Fire devoured this garage and RV in Volcanoville, CA. Pastor Jay McCarl travelled to the neighborhood on Thursday to check on this home belonging to of one of his church members. Photo by Jay McCarl

Peace Through the Fire
During this fire crisis, Dan shared, “I had these days of an incredible sinking feeling in my stomach: I don’t know what’s going to happen. Every time I watched the news, I was getting scared and nervous. Then I shut it all off for a while and found out later that both locations were safe. In each case, watching the details happen was terrifying, but I was much more at peace just letting it go.” He added, “There’s nothing you can do from 15 miles away. You can’t put your hands on it, so you have to trust God.”

When tempted to panic, Dan turned to Psalms 33 and 34. “Psalm 33 talks about how God protects the righteous. Psalm 34 is about why God protects the righteous. The psalmist identifies the fear of the Lord—understanding that God has His eye on the righteous and His back turned away from the unrighteous. Because we are righteous in Christ, we have God’s eye, His ear. That was a big part of our comfort.”

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Psalm 33:18-19

He noted two aspects of faith that were effective in calming his nerves. “There’s a side of faith that says God can protect us; there’s another side of faith that says even if God doesn’t protect us, He has a better plan.”

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Nothing remains of the house of a member of Calvary Georgetown Divide in Volcanoville. The small fellowship’s building is safe but trapped inside a “red” evacuation zone. Pastor Jay McCarl admits that he is feeling a “holy anxiousness” to reunite with his congregation, which is scattered because they live in the evacuation zone and haven’t been allowed to return home yet. “I’m hungry for fellowship,” he exclaimed. Photo by Jay McCarl

Prayer Needs
Both pastors asked that people remember the firefighters. Jay urged, “Just pray for these guys who are working incredibly hard right on the fire line. I know a number of them, plus the fire commander goes to our church. A lot of them know the Lord, a lot of them don’t. The work they have to do in this area is extreme. Thank the Lord absolutely that the heat has broken right now because these guys have been doing this in 110 degrees with the flames on top of that.”

Dan emphasized, “Just pray that God continues to calm hearts. We’ve been asking God to use even this to just wake people up to their need for Him. Just pray that God continues to protect homes and give firefighters energy.”

Calvary Chapel Foresthill: calvaryforesthill.com

Calvary Georgetown Divide: coolcalvary.com

 

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Viewed from the Foresthill community in Placer County, CA, an air tanker drops retardant on the Mosquito Fire as it burns near Volcanoville on September 8. AP Photo/Noah Berger

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

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