POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE—Wildfires that rampage across parts of Texas destroyed most of the facilities of First Baptist Church of Possum Kingdom Lake.
More than 90 wildfires have broken out across the state, torching about 1 million acres. On April 15, fire sweeping through the area around Possum Kingdom Lake incinerated the nursery, office, kitchen and sanctuary of First Baptist Church.
The church burned as Pastor Dennis Trammell was returning home from a vacation. The first call he received reporting impending danger was about 3 p.m. when a church member feared the church parsonage might be lost to flames, Trammell said.
About 7 p.m., he received another call saying the danger had abated and everything was all right. About an hour and a half later, when he was within a few miles of the church, his phone rang again, and the report sounded dismal. The church was in flames.
“They had personnel there. They had equipment there. They were putting water on it, but it still caught,” Trammell reported.
Firefighters saved the parsonage, as well as the family life center, where the congregation met for worship two days later.
Chris Liebrum, who leads disaster response for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, was with the congregation that day. Seeing as many as 100 people meet for church that Sunday in the midst of the fires showed the congregation’s strong commitment to following God, he said.
But in the middle of the service, the fire marshal evacuated the city—an evacuation order that came too late for some, Trammell said.
“It got really hairy, and some people were left behind at the church,” he said. “I drove through some heavy, heavy smoke, and really couldn’t see the stripes on the road. The people behind me decided they weren’t going to drive through that smoke not knowing what they were driving into. Looking back, I shouldn’t have driven through it either.”
The people who chose to remain at the church stayed there about 90 minutes more until firefighters were able to open an alternate route of escape.
“Texas Baptists will stand with First Baptist Church as they rebuild,” Liebrum said. “We are in the process of sending emergency relief funds to the pastor and the church. The convention’s architecture team will be walking alongside the congregation throughout the recovery process.”
Texas Baptist Men disaster relief emergency food-service units have prepared more than 3,000 meals for people affected by the wildfires in Aspermont and Fort Davis. The group also has been asked to send a feeding unit to Possum Kingdom Lake. Fire clean-up units also are serving in Fort Davis.
“We’re trying to show the presence of God to the victims of the fires,” said Dick Talley, who leads TBM disaster relief efforts. “That can be through feeding or helping them clean out their property, find personal belongings—whatever it takes to help those individuals affected by the fires.”
While the Possum Kingdom Lake church had fire insurance, Trammell remains uncertain if it will be enough to cover rebuilding costs.
“Our insurance papers were inside a fireproof safe in the church that wasn’t fireproof, so we don’t know exactly how the insurance papers read,” he said.
An insurance adjuster was supposed to come to make an assessment April 19, but the area still was under an evacuation order. How long that order will last was unknown, which made planning difficult for the Possum Kingdom church.
“If they were to tell us that the order would last at least through Monday, we could start making plans. But when we don’t know when it will be lifted, that makes it very difficult,” Trammell said. Adding to that difficulty, about half the members of the congregation also were ordered to evacuate their homes, including Trammell.
Numerous churches and individuals have offered chairs, hymnals and replacement volumes for his library that was totally incinerated, but so far, he has been reluctant to accept those offers due to the uncertainty of the situation.
“I haven taken anyone up on their books because I’m living out of my van right now,” he explained.
First Baptist Church in Eastland temporarily housed nine people who were evacuated as a result of the wildfires. One church member lost her home.
Despite the circumstances, the congregation remains strong, said Pastor Shawn Brewer.
“You’re concerned because the fire guys are working so hard,” he said. “With the weather and the lack of rain, it’s seems to be very frustrating to them. But our community is very, very supportive.”
To contribute financially to relief and recovery efforts, give online to Texas Baptist Men disaster relief at HYPERLINK "http://www.texasbaptistmen.org" www.texasbaptistmen.org or to the Baptist General Convention of Texas disaster reponse at HYPERLINK "http://www.texasbaptists.org/give" www.texasbaptists.org/give.
With additional reporting by Baptist Standard staff writer George Henson