VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Catholics in the Diocese of Whitehorse, Yukon, sought assistance after a devastating wildfire in Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, destroyed a mission church, rectory and homes.
“Many people are in complete distress and broken because they are finding themselves with nothing,” said Bishop Hector Vila of Whitehorse in a letter to Canadian bishops Aug. 8.
The diocese includes communities in northern British Columbia.
Lightning sparked a wildfire northwest of Telegraph Creek in the northern part of the province Aug. 1, and a local state of emergency was declared three days later. All 300 residents of Telegraph Creek were told to evacuate Aug. 5, and they fled to Dease Lake and nearby communities.
Vila said all residents were evacuated safely, but many structures, including buildings at St. Theresa Mission, were destroyed in the blaze. The church rectory was the home of pastoral workers Joshua and Denise Grimard and their children.
“At the moment, the impact of the wildfire and the future of the community of Telegraph Creek is still unknown,” the bishop said. He asked for prayers for residents who lost their homes and belongings, as well as for firefighters, first responders and volunteers.
The Diocese of Whitehorse also sought donations for victims through its Canada Helps webpage and for material donations to be dropped off at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse.
Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, apostolic nuncio to Canada, said he would offer prayers and a blessing for the small, devastated community.
“I am both deeply saddened by the stress and hardship hurting the people of Telegraph Creek, and encouraged by the spirit of solid solidarity of Dease Lake residents receiving them and by the good number of volunteers who from different places of your diocese are moving to Dease Lake to provide help and pastoral ministry,” he said in a letter to Vila.
“I would like to assure you of the fraternal proximity of Pope Francis to the people of Telegraph Creek affected by this present calamity, and to those who are in any way helping them, kindly asking you to transmit to them his comforting apostolic blessing,” the archbishop wrote.
As of Aug. 10, the British Columbia Wildfire Service said the active blaze had merged with the South Stikine River fire and was an estimated 74,000 acres in size.
It also said 136 firefighters, 12 helicopters and 20 heavy equipment units were deployed to battle the blaze.
Krawczynski is a reporter for The B.C. Catholic in Vancouver.