-- Catholic News Agency
Catholic Charities Mobilizes Against Growing Colorado Fires
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO., June 27 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Both evacuees and residents of the Colorado Springs area are in "utter shock and disbelief" at the major fire threatening the outskirts of the city, a local Catholic Charities official says.
Rochelle Schlortt, communications director for Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, said the situation is "just scary."
"You look up and you see the smoke or you see the flames. It's like the entire mountainside is on fire," she told CNA June 27.
Schlortt said the city's residents now "live in a fog of smoke," which creates difficulties for anyone with respiratory problems, while others feel a "constant burning" in their eyes and throats.
"Smoke has literally descended and engulfed not only the Colorado Springs city but the entire El Paso county."
Over 30,000 people have evacuated neighborhoods north and west of Colorado Springs, including parts of the Air Force Academy, to escape the Waldo Canyon Fire which began June 23. The fire has burned over 15,000 acres and was only five percent contained as of Wednesday morning, the Denver Post reports.
Colorado has suffered several major fires already this year.
Schlott explained that he first responders to the Colorado Springs fire are the Red Cross, which is setting up shelters, and the Salvation Army, which is providing evacuees with meals. At the request of the Salvation Army, the Colorado Springs Catholic Charities affiliate is helping to prepare and deliver several hundred meals per day.
The Catholic agency is supplying food to three shelters in Colorado Springs and one near the town of Divide. Road closures mean Divide is now a 2.5-hour drive from the city.
Schlortt said June 27 that the situation is "very fluid."
"This fire is progressing and putting people out of their neighborhoods on an hourly basis."
Joe Mahoney, executive director of Catholic Charities of Southern Colorado, said his Pueblo-based agency is collecting money to support the Colorado Springs affiliate's operations.
Mahoney, a former disaster response officer for Catholic Charities USA, told CNA he is heading to Colorado Springs to provide assistance in person.
Schlortt said that every relief agency in Colorado Springs is responding. Many people are donating funds, volunteering and taking others into their homes.
"The entire community is just opening their hearts," she said.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver has offered financial and staff assistance to its Colorado Springs counterpart to respond to the fires.
The Waldo Canyon Fire forced the cancellation of Sunday Mass at two parishes, the Colorado Catholic Herald reports. The novitiate for the Order of the Holy Cross in Cascade was evacuated, as was Mount St. Francis Nursing Home. Activities at St. Francis of Assisi Parish have been cancelled on orders of the fire department.
Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs offered prayers for those affected by the fire.
"We also pray for the firefighters and volunteers who are working hard to contain the wildfire and serve the needs of those affected," he said June 26. "We are grateful for your courage, generosity and sacrifice, and we are heartened to see communities rallying together during this trying time."
The bishop will lead a Holy Hour of prayer for fire victims and first responders on June 28 at 7 p.m. at downtown Colorado Springs' St. Mary Cathedral.
Bishop James D. Conley, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver, has called for prayer and charitable assistance to the victims of the multiple fires in Colorado.
Schlortt also asked for prayers, saying "We need all the prayers we can get."
Victims of other Colorado fires remain in need.
Catholic Charities of Denver is continuing to help evacuees of the High Park Fire in Larimer County in the mountains of northern Colorado. That fire, the second-largest in state history, began in a June 9 lightning strike. It burned over 87,000 acres and over 250 homes and is still only 65 percent contained. A 62-year-old woman died in the blaze, the Denver Post reports.
Last week, the Denver charity received emergency assistance grants totaling $20,000 from Catholic Charities USA and from United Way of Larimer County. It has also contributed $10,000 of its own funds to provide food, clothing, hotel accommodations and other personal items to the victims.
It is distributing aid in cooperation with the Red Cross and United Way. It is continuing to monitor the new fire in Boulder County, which is burning 230 acres and has prompted pre-evacuation warnings to over 2,000 phone numbers.
"Should the need arise for more extensive relief assistance, Catholic Charities is prepared to respond quickly and effectively to those needs," the Denver agency said June 27.
Donations to support victims of the Colorado Springs fires may be made through the Catholic Charities of Central Colorado website http://ccharitiescc.org.
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