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MDS Monitoring West Coast Wildfires, Invites Donations and Prayer

September 15, 2020

People in the U.S. and Canada watching the news reports about the west coast wildfires may be wondering: What can I do to help? 

The answer, says Steve Wiest, Operations Coordinator for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) on west coast is “pray and donate.” 

“We invite everyone to pray for firefighters, other emergency workers, and everyone else impacted by the fires,” he says of the fires which have burned about 4.6 million acres. 

“Never before has there been so much destruction all along the west coast by so many major fires.”  

Wiest also invites people to consider donating to MDS so it can help those who have lost their homes. 

“That’s the best way to help fire victims,” he says, adding the donations will be used to support MDS volunteers once they start rebuilding homes. 

Currently, MDS is monitoring the wildfire situation and looking to see if there are any immediate ways it can help, as well as preparing for longer-term recovery efforts. 

But even if he doesn’t know exactly how MDS will respond to the wildfires, “we know we will be there, being the hands and feet of Jesus for those impacted by these disasters, just as we have done in the past,” Wiest says, adding “donations at this time will help us when we are able to respond.” 

Takes time to respond to wildfires, other disasters 

While the news is filled with stories and images about the fires right now, it will take time before MDS can send in volunteers, Wiest says. 

“It takes time to respond after a disaster of any kind,” he shares, explaining that local officials first need to assess the scope of the destruction and then identify those most in need of assistance from MDS—the elderly, people with health issues or a disability or who lack insurance. 

“These are the people who can fall through the cracks of the normal government assistance programs, or whose special circumstances make them especially vulnerable,” he says, adding “we often help people who would otherwise not get their home rebuilt.” 

As well, he adds, MDS wants to be sure it is safe to begin work before sending volunteers to the area. 

“A careful and specialized environmental assessment needs to be done to determine if homes or entire neighbourhoods have been contaminated by sewage, chemicals or airborne toxic agents,” he explains. 

This is especially true after a fire, he says, noting that during the recovery after 9/11 in New York so many workers got sick that now cleanup after a fire is considered a toxic waste site. 

“Specially trained and equipped crews are required for debris removal after a fire,” he says, adding that has to be done before MDS can get started. 

With so many properties damaged or destroyed on the west coast, this could take a very long time, he says, adding there are many other steps before reconstruction can begin—things like property surveys, septic repairs and inspections, getting water and electricity installed, obtaining building permits and arranging financing by homeowners. 

“This all can take from one to two years,” Wiest notes. 

Added to all this is the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. “That adds an extra layer of safety and health issues,” he says. 

In addition to the west coast wildfires, MDS is also evaluating needs in the Gulf coast from hurricanes, and from the powerful windstorm in Iowa.

“It may take some time for us to get on the ground on the west coast and for other areas affected by disasters, but people can help by praying and giving now,” Wiest shares. 

Your donations at this time will help us when we are able to respond. Click here to donate now. 

Since 2017, MDS has rebuilt or repaired 40 homes destroyed or damaged by fires in California, Alaska, and British Columbia. In 2019, 5,569 MDS volunteers built 68 new homes and repaired 313 houses. Total value of the work was $9.8 million U.S./$12.9 CDN. 


John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications Coordinator