As Southern Baptist volunteers sift through the remains of home sites in Ruidoso, New Mexico, in the aftermath of recent wildfires that claimed two lives and destroyed more than 200 homes, they can’t tell much about what the house looked like or who lived there. But the complete and thorough destruction tells a story of its own.
“The wind that was pushing this fire was gusting up to 80 to 90 miles an hour,” said Ed Greene, who is leading efforts in the area for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. “Sometimes people only had minutes to get out. One of our volunteers lives here. He and his wife came home and their house was on fire. They had to evacuate with only the clothes on their backs.”
Now Greene and his volunteers use heavy machinery, shovels, wheelbarrows and buckets to haul away what’s left. At the request of a homeowner, they carefully sift through specific parts of the homesite, trying to find a family heirloom or a significant piece of jewelry that might have survived.
“Mainly it’s just a pile of debris — concrete block, wood, metal, ash,” Greene said.
‘No time to salvage anything’
Ruidoso is located 180 miles southeast of Albuquerque in the Sierra Blanca mountains. While some of the homes impacted serve as mountain getaway vacation homes and are only inhabited part of the year, most are the only residences owners had.
“Most lost everything they had,” Greene said. “There was no time to salvage anything. There are some distraught people.”
The McBride fire that ravaged much of Ruidoso is now 95% contained. It is one of at least five blazes that have already been burning in the state this spring parching thousands of acres. High winds and abnormally high temperatures have created dangerous conditions and made the work of firefighters all the more difficult. Simultaneous fires in Colorado and Arizona have caused similar destruction.
New Mexico’s volunteers serving with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief began service to residents of the area by removing downed trees that had been toppled by the high winds that are driving these fires. Teams completed 43 chainsaw jobs, praying with homeowners and distributing Bibles along the way. So far, they have seen 11 people make professions of faith as a result of their ministry. More than 2,300 volunteer work hours have already been served.
SBDR volunteers from Texas and Arizona are serving alongside New Mexico Baptists and teams from Oklahoma and Missouri will be arriving soon. First Baptist Church Ruidoso is hosting the teams and serving as a base of operations.
Send Relief, the Southern Baptist compassion ministry arm, sent a shipment of fire relief materials including N-95 facemasks and Tyvek suits.
“These are devastating fires, but our Southern Baptist partners specialize in bringing hope to situations like this,” said Coy Webb, Send Relief’s crisis response director. “It’s looking like another long fire season, so these volunteers in the West will need all the prayers and support we can give.”
Greene said, like with most SBDR responses, the Ruidoso project has been filled with examples of God’s provision and Southern Baptist partnership.
The day before the project started, Greene’s team had no skid steers to aid in the effort. The small construction vehicles are essential for a variety of tasks in the relief effort. The team asked members of First Baptist Ruidoso to pray at their Wednesday night prayer service. Within 36 hours, five skid steers were on site and ready to go.
Greene has also been encouraged to see Southern Baptist cooperation in action.
“One of the hallmarks of Southern Baptists is that we are a cooperative bunch,” Greene said. “This is a classic example.”
Ways to give
Check with your church, association or state Baptist convention to find out how they contribute to this and related efforts. To contact your state convention for more information, click here. Or, for more information about Send Relief’s crisis response site, click here.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Mike Ebert and originally published by the North American Mission Board.