Southern Baptists ready to provide spiritual support for firefighters’ families

By Tobin Perry 

YARNELL, Ariz. – After an out-of-control, lightning-induced fire around Yarnell, Ariz., killed 19 firefighters on Sunday, Southern Baptists are mobilizing disaster relief chaplains to walk alongside impacted families and provide them with spiritual support.

The deaths represented the worst firefighting tragedy in Arizona’s history, reports the Arizona Republic, Phoenix’s daily newspaper.

As of Monday morning, Arizona Southern Baptists had connected with local churches near Yarnell and are determining the needs of the impacted families. Larry Hyde, the disaster relief director for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, says chaplain teams are on the way to the fire area.

“Our response to hurting families is to help hurting people, not to make Baptists out of them,” Hyde said. “We’re just out there to support people’s needs and share the love of Jesus at a time when their lives are falling apart.”

Hyde is hopeful that Southern Baptists will have opportunities to minister to the firefighters’ families through relationships already built with Arizona’s fire services. Besides looking to meet any spiritual needs among firefighters’ families, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains will be on hand to help churches that will undoubtedly be dealing with the loss as well. Hyde says it’s likely that church members knew some of the firefighters.

The firefighters were part of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots of nearby Prescott, Ariz. All but one of the firefighters were from Prescott. They were responding to a fire that may have already destroyed half of Yarnell’s 500 homes. One member of the 20-member team, who was in a separate location, survived the fire. By late Sunday 250 firefighters were battling the fire. That number was expected to climb to 400 on Monday.

Hyde also says that Arizona Southern Baptists are preparing teams to help homeowners in the Yarnell area impacted by the fire. He says one and possibly two kitchen teams will be put on standby to provide food for the shelters housing fire survivors. Shower teams, ash-out and chaplain teams also will be going to the area to assist residents. 

Fritz Wilson, executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, notes that all disaster relief responders hurt when news like this comes.

“In the back of our minds, we always know that first responders are willing to put their lives on the line, but when it actually happens, we’re always caught off guard and saddened,” Wilson said. “The whole response community hurts when this happens and then reaches out to support not just the family but the whole town of Yarnell.”

Wilson added that he believes Southern Baptists’ best opportunity for ministry will come in long-term help. He says he’ll be working with Arizona SBDR to see what kinds of needs Southern Baptists from other states may be able to help with.

Steve Bass, NAMB’s vice president for the West region, echoed Wilson’s concerns and promised the prayers of Southern Baptists.

“Many of these are younger men who represent families,” said Bass, who lives in Phoenix and served for 15 years as the executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention before coming to NAMB in 2011. “We lost 19 great people, but we have immediately impacted families as well. Those children are never going to get away from this. That’s when your heart goes out to them. Obviously our prayers are for them. I’m sure our churches in the area will be reaching out to those families the best they can.”

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. 

Published July 2, 2013