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AG Churches in Paradise Feared Destroyed

Two Assemblies of God churches located in Paradise, California, are believed to have been severely damaged or destroyed by the Camp Fire.
As wildfires continue to race across the tinder-dry California countryside, cities stand little chance of turning the ravaging flames aside.

Yesterday, the Northern California city of Paradise, a retirement community of 27,000 located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and home to two Assemblies of God churches, was evacuated due to the approaching Camp Fire. Evidently the evacuation was not completely successful as reports state at least five people were killed by the flames while trying to evacuate the city in their vehicles.

The two Paradise churches, First Assembly of God, pastored by Billy “Jack” Wright, and Skyway AG, pastored by Mike Thompson, are both believed to have experienced fire damage. However, at this time it can’t be determined if the building were destroyed or only partially damaged — though fire officials are saying the city was decimated by the flames.

“We’ve spoken to our pastors, and they’re all safe, and as far as they know, so are their congregants,” says Bret Allen, district superintendent for the Northern California and Nevada district. “However, the pastors told me that they were driving through fire trying to get out of town before the flames engulfed the city.”

Today, the small town of Stirling City was evacuated. Mike Batz, pastor of Stirling City AG told Allen that he could see aircraft dropping fire retardant directly behind his home as the Camp Fire approached. Batz and his family are now safe.

According to Allen, Thursday morning the Camp Fire was reported at 5,000 acres. Today, it mushroomed to 70,000 acres and apparently is still growing as fire officials report 0 percent containment.

“Yesterday we had winds upwards of 50 mph,” Allen says. “It’s hard to express how fast a fire can move across dry ground,” Allen says. “There are hurricanes and floods, but fire has its own level of devastation.”

Allen says that if the fires continue to grow, more communities will be put at risk and place additional AG churches in harm’s way.

Convoy of Hope is setting up a distribution location at Chico (California) First Assembly. The compassion organization will distribute supplies — food, water, blankets, hygiene items, and cleaning kits — to shelters or directly to individuals who have been affected by the fires.

Adding to the complexity of the disaster is tonight the district’s youth convention is being held at Trinity Life Center in Sacramento — a destination city for many of the thousands evacuating fire-threatened communities.

“We need your prayers,” Allen appeals. “Local pastors assure me that what’s being seen in the media concerning these fires is not being blown out of proportion.”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.