• Philip Burn

Emotional and Spiritual Care Team Ministering in Texas Panhandle

Dallas, Texas (March 9, 2024) – The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) teams continue to serve in the Texas panhandle as firefighters work to contain the wildfires that have ravaged the area. As residents return, many to homes that are completely lost, trained Emotional and Spiritual Care (ESC) workers are on hand to encourage, pray and listen to those devastated by the tragic situation.

In the last few days, firefighters have made progress towards containment of the destructive wildfires. The Smokehouse Creek Fire has burned more than a million acres and is now 74% contained, the Windy Deuce fire is at 89% and Grapevine Creek at 96%. The Salvation Army Service Units of Pampa and Borger continue to coordinate with community partners and local government to provide meals, snacks and hydration to responders, staff at Fire Stations, community members and to volunteers at animal supply donation sites at the request of Emergency Management. Donation management and distribution is ongoing.

More than 400 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the fires and residents are just beginning the physically and emotionally challenging task of inspecting their properties and seeking resources to support the lengthy process of recovery. The Salvation Army of Borger participated in the first Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) on Friday, providing emergency assistance, food boxes and gift cards. ESC personnel from Abilene, Granbury, and Amarillo are on site to support those seeking assistance. MARCs will be open in other communities in the coming days.

“I have been involved in many response efforts, but this is very different to anything I’ve experienced before,” said Linda Dowell, a volunteer from Granbury, Texas, who is part of the ESC team serving at the MARC in Fritch. “While the disaster may not appear as broad as something like a hurricane, the impact on the community and individual lives is every bit as significant. There is great spiritual need in this community as people are hurting. Their Fire Chief tragically died this week and many people have returned to their homes to find everything destroyed. A firefighter told us the fire was so hot that it completely burned up houses, melting metal, cast iron skillets and glass, and even cars outside.”

The ESC team are praying with those seeking support at the MARC where survivors can receive practical and financial assistance from The Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, Texas Baptist Men, assistance with lost legal documents, income tax forms, tetanus shots and more. “We are praying and listening to their stories and there are lots of hugs and tears. Of course, not everyone we speak to are believers, but everyone has been grateful for the opportunity to talk and pray,” said Dowell. “I’ve spoken to several people who barely made it out alive before the fire engulfed their homes. Some folks were at work during the day and later returned to find everything completely gone including their pets and belongings. It’s heartbreaking and many homeowners here did not have insurance. Even though they are devastated by the situation, people are testifying to knowing that God is with them, even in this tragedy. I firmly believe that God has divinely appointed us to be here, right in this moment to pray. We have prayed with survivors, aid workers and people in authority around town.”

In addition to supporting MARCs in various panhandle cities, Salvation Army teams have been roving through impacted neighborhoods. Bruce Peterson, a long-time EDS volunteer from Williamson County, said, “This is so different to anything I have experienced before. We are ministering to people literally standing in the ashes of their home while they sift through the dirt trying to recover anything that survived the fires. What a privilege it is for me to hand a bottle of water and pray with someone in this situation.”

Salvation Army staff members Annie Olsen (Borger) and Shelby Huff (Panhandle Region) both recently attended a weekend of disaster training courses in Dallas with the goal to put together their own local disaster response team. Not even two weeks later, both are leading full-scale response efforts. “Annie and Shelby are doing an incredible job supporting their cities and communities,” said Dowell. “Their leadership, compassion and sense of community collaboration is making a real impact for those in need.”

As of Friday, March 8, The Salvation Army has provided 1,984 meals, 2,149 drinks, 2,192 snacks, 158 Blessings Bags, and 15 Thrift Store vouchers. More than 90 ESC contacts were made on Friday alone.

“Talking and praying with those affected by the panhandle wildfires has been a stark reminder of how “final” fire can be. Floods, hurricanes and tornadoes leave debris, but fires leave nothing but ashes,” said Major Tex Ellis Jr., ESC team member and Salvation Army Officer from Amarillo. “Asking someone if they would like to pray, seeing them smile and say, “I knew The Salvation Army would be here,” is a powerful and humbling reminder of what God has called us to do.”

To make a financial donation to support the Texas wildfire relief go to helpsalvationarmy.org or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY. For more information on The Salvation Army’s current disaster response efforts go to www.disaster.salvationarmyusa.org.