Prelates ask prayers for families, firefighters facing devastating blaze

Burned cars are seen on a piece of property Dec. 5 during a wildfire near Santa Paula, Calif. Pushed by powerful Santa Ana winds, the fire spread with explosive speed to 31,000 acres in Southern California's Ventura County, forcing thousands to evacuate in the dark. -CNS photo | David McNew, Reuters

By Catholic News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez on Dec. 5 called for prayers for the well-being of families, firefighters and rescue workers “facing devastating fires and high winds” in Ventura and Los Angeles counties in Southern California.

“May God keep them all safe and put an end to these fires!” the archbishop said in a message sent via social media channels and posted on the archdiocesan news site, angelusnews.com.

News reports said that flames prompted evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people, destroyed nearly 200 homes and remained mostly out control as of early Dec. 6. To date, officials had reported no fatalities.

On Twitter, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron said the fires in Ventura County, which is in his pastoral region, had alone forced 30,000 people to evacuate. Known as the Thomas Fire, it erupted northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

“Join me in praying for all the evacuees, firefighters, officials, and everyone helping to subdue the flames,” he tweeted. About 1,000 firefighters were working to contain the wind-driven flames.

Among the evacuees in Ventura County were students and faculty at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. The fire destroyed 50,500 acres as it nearly reached the Pacific Ocean the night of Dec. 5. It had started a day earlier about 30 miles inland, according to news reports.

In a message posted on its website and on Twitter, the Catholic college expressed “deep gratitude for the prayers of its many friends and for the heroic firefighters who battled all of Monday night (Dec. 4) to protect the Santa Paula campus.”

“The flames in the surrounding area — which, at one point, came up to the very edge of the campus access road — have subsided,” it said Dec. 5, noting there was extensive damage to trees and brush and minor damage to a patio area, but “no major structures have been harmed.”

“The danger to the campus seems to have passed, but the roads remain closed and power has yet to be restored. Classes are, therefore, canceled for the remainder of this week,” it continued. “The college is hopeful that it will reopen in time for final exams next week.”

Students from California who had transportation were considering returning home for the time being; others planned to remain at the homes of local friends and faculty.

The college added: “Please continue to pray for the safety of all those affected by the Thomas Fire as well as for all firefighters and other first responders. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

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