BLACK FOREST, Col. (FBW)—Driving 1,600 miles for two straight days in August a team of six Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers “slept a little, filled up the cars, ate, and kept on going.”
Their mission? To “ash-out” homes devastated in Black Forest, Colo. where in June a forest fire in nine days burned 14,280 acres, destroying more than 500 homes, and killing two people.
The team, from Walton County Baptist Association, joined other Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams, who had begun working on the ground in Colorado since soon after the fire was extinguished.
Blue Hat Lynton Malloy led the group that included his wife, Patti, Grady and Sue Rushing, Jimmie Baxley, Robert Whatley, all from Walton County, and Jim Bruce from Tallahassee.
The Walton County team has been called out for clean up after hurricanes, ice storms and tornadoes through the years, but this was its first ash-out. Not knowing quite what to expect, the team received orientation at
Incident Command in Black Forest where Southern Baptist teams from Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma were already at work sites.
“When we arrived at our first work site we were totally overwhelmed with the destruction we saw, and didn’t know where to begin,” Patti Malloy said.
After prayer, the team began sifting through the ashes to find anything the homeowners might find valuable. The homeowners, a couple with two young sons, were left homeless in the fast-moving fire.
“Knowing the young couple and their boys had lost everything made us determined to find anything we could give to them,” Patti Malloy said.
The Floridians found dog tags given to the eldest grandson by his grandfather, an irreplaceable find that was valuable to the family. The team also recovered a Craftsman Tool Set the boys had received from their father. The tools were melted together and the handles were crumbling, but the family hoped to return the set to Sears for a replacement, Patti Malloy said.
At another work site the team sifted through the remains of a home owned by a retired fire chief and his wife. The couple lost an antique business in the fire in addition to their home. The team was able to find several items that seemed to be still in good shape.
“We found state quarters all melted together, old watches, doodads and what-nots,” Lynton Malloy said. “We tried to find a weathervane where they told us it might be, but we didn’t find it.”
The Floridians loaded dumpsters with ash, glass, blocks and wood, and other dumpsters with metal that junk yards buy, according to one team member. The metal sales help to offset the homeowners’ costs of renting the dumpsters.
At each work site curious neighbors—some whose home escaped the fire when the wind shifted, stopped to talk with the volunteer workers.
“They couldn’t understand why we went so far to help without being paid. They just couldn’t get a hold on that,” Malloy said.
The Southerners’ drawl was also an attention-getter, he said. He said they told the residents they were from “the part of Florida that is L.A.—lower Alabama.”
Whatever the starting point of a conversation, sharing the Gospel is always the goal, according to Jimmie Baxley, a team member from First Baptist Church of Liberty in DeFuniak Springs.
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