Samaritan's Purse teams on the ground in California as wildfires rage

(Samaritan's Purse)

Over 52,000 people have been ordered to evacuate California as 17 major fires rage across the state, with the so-called "Carr Fire" in Redding having killed six people, bringing the state-wide death toll to eight as of Tuesday morning.

Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team have been deployed to help with emergency relief and assist victims, with over 1,000 homes and other buildings having been lost or damaged.

"A disaster relief unit — a tractor trailer filled with equipment and supplies — has been sent to California in response to the deadly Carr fire near Redding. Our truck rolled from North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, on Sunday," the humanitarian relief agency said in an update on Monday.

"Samaritan's Purse program managers are already on the ground assessing the situation in cooperation with local churches and government agencies. We are rapidly trying to determine how best we can serve area residents in Jesus' Name and will soon be seeking volunteers to assist homeowners as they search for precious belongings beneath the ashes."

CBS News noted that the Carr Fire has grown to the size of Denver, and despite the thousands of firefighters risking their lives to fight it, only 23 percent of it has been contained so far.

The blazes in California have scorched nearly a quarter of a million acres, with a number of tragic stories emerging.

In Redding, three members of a single family — two young children and their great-grandmother — were killed when they became trapped in their home, which was engulfed by flames.

Ed Bledsoe, the husband of the great-grandmother, Melody, revealed that he did not hear about the evacuation orders in Redding. Bledsoe said that he was with his wife and the two great-grandchildren, 5-year-old James and 4-year-old Emily, when he had to go out to run an errand.

"They wanted to go with me and I wouldn't take them with me because I didn't have air conditioning in my damn truck," the man said. "So I said, no it's so hot out there, you guys stay here and Grandpa will be right back."

Fifteen minutes later, he received a phone call urging him to return as the fire was coming up the hill, and though he tried to race back, the roads were blocked.

"I was talking to my little grandson on the phone, and he said, 'Grandpa, please, you got to come and help us. The fire is at the back door, come and get us.' I said, 'I'm close by, son, I'm trying to get in there. I said I'm right by you, honey, just hold on, Grandpa's coming," Bledsoe said, describing the emotional phone call.

"I could hear them, the fire in there crackling," he added. "Emily was hollering that she loved me. She said, 'Tell Grandpa that I love him. I love him.' And then my wife was saying, 'Tell Grandpa I love him with all my heart.'"

"My wife wrapped them up in wet blankets and got over the top of them," Bledsoe said. "My dogs got in on them and they laid there until the fire took them."

The grieving husband and great-grandfather said that he desperately wishes he had been with his family in the house to face the fires with them.

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham touched on some other casualties and called for prayers in a Facebook statement last week.

"Please pray for those in the path of this deadly wildfire that is tearing through communities in California. Authorities said that winds reaching 60 mph are creating firenadoes strong enough to overturn vehicles," Graham wrote.

"A bulldozer operator was killed and three firefighters injured yesterday. Especially pray for the protection of all those battling this and many blazes in several states in the west."

Dave Spliethof, a pilot for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said that he was doing his job looking for fires as an aerial spotter when he found out that he lost his own home.

"I knew at the time, 'OK it's gone, it's going, it's gone, you know, just take a deep breath and go back to work,'" Spliethof told CBS News.

"Knowing it could be my house someday, we do everything we can to prepare for it, but this one was so bad even all the preparation in the world ... just didn't stop it."

Spliethof said that nothing was left of his family's home, but vowed to continue assisting others.

"I would much rather be out there helping than be here feeling sorry for myself," he said.

Source: The Christian Post