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Catholic Vancouver Aug. 10, 2018

Northern B.C. residents ‘broken’ as wildfire consumes homes, church

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

The Alkali Lake (Telegraph Creek) wildfire has claimed numerous buildings including a Catholic church and rectory. (B.C. Wildfire Service photo)

Catholics in the Diocese of Whitehorse are asking for help after a devastating wildfire in Telegraph Creek destroyed a mission church, rectory, and many homes.

“Many people are in complete distress and broken because they are finding themselves with nothing,” said Bishop Hector Vila in a letter to Canadian bishops Aug. 8.

Lightning sparked a wildfire northwest of Telegraph Creek in northern B.C. 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 other nearby communities.

Bishop Vila said all residents were evacuated safely, but many structures, including homes and St. Theresa’s mission church and rectory were consumed in the blaze. The 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.”

Bishop Vila is asking for prayers for those who are suffering the loss of their homes and belongings, as well as for firefighters, first responders, and volunteers.

The Diocese of Whitehorse is also asking for online donations to their Canada Helps webpage and for material donations to be dropped off at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse.

Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the Pope’s representative in Canada, said he is offering his 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 Bishop 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.”

By press time Aug. 10, the B.C. Wildfire Service said the active blaze had merged with the South Stikine River fire and was an estimated 30,000 hectares in size.

It also said 136 firefighters, 12 helicopters, and 20 heavy equipment units were fighting it. Latest updates from the B.C. Wildfire Service available here.