Wildfires Sweep Through Louisiana, FUMC DeRidder Hosting Survivors

August 24, 2023

It is being described as one of the largest wildfires to impact Louisiana in several years, and late Thursday, mandatory evacuation orders were put in place for Merryville, Louisiana.

The wildfire, now known as The Tiger Island Fire, rapidly approached the town's borders. At the town hall, buses were on standby to assist those in the approximately 1,000-person population who lacked transportation. First United Methodist Church of DeRidder is hosting close to 60 families who had to evacuate.

The fire, as reported by the Beauregard Parish Sheriff's Office, had already devoured over 16,000 acres. Although the fire was 85% under control by Thursday, its progress was exacerbated by strong winds. By 5 p.m., there were concerns among authorities that the fire might encroach upon the town in the ensuing two hours, raising the level of urgency.

Rev. Laraine Waughtal, the pastor at First United Methodist Church in DeRidder, said Friday morning that the families are being well taken care of, and the church is doing everything it can to offer warm hospitality.

"As the people arrived with very little except themselves, I listened to sirens running all night long and people working together in incredible ways to help take care of those who have had to leave their homes, lost their homes, or didn’t know if they’re still standing," Waughtal said, "I have prayed with the firefighters, some who have lost their homes and were not able to go home and get their own personal belongings, I have cried with them, held them, and then they go back to work." 

"The Connection at Work"

Rev. Rich Varner pastors Grace Community Church in Shreveport, LA, and said his church had relief supplies boxed and ready for distribution. He initially thought the boxes would be put to use after a hurricane, something Louisianians are quite used to.

However, when he and others at Grace found out about the needs in DeRidder, he happily loaded them onto the back of a pick-up truck for delivery. 

"We always need to be alert and ready to serve those in need," Varner said. "I think the word that comes to mind is 'flexible'. It was just a few months ago when tornadoes did significant damage up here, and churches in south Louisiana showed up to help us. You build relationships, and it becomes an extended family of sorts."   

Record-Breaking Heat in Louisiana

The wildfire has already surpassed the yearly average for statewide wildfire acreage over the past decade, which stands at 8,217 acres.

The severity of this wildfire outbreak is exacerbated by the region's drought conditions and record-breaking heatwave, which have collectively elevated the risk of wildfires across Louisiana this summer. The state has seen nearly 360 wildfires that have consumed approximately 5,000 acres throughout the month of August.

Other United Methodist Churches Near the Fire 

Situated southeast of the advancing fire, several United Methodist churches find themselves in the potential path of the fire. Among these is Squyres United Methodist Church, located in Ragley, as well as Moss Bluff United Methodist Church. These churches, aware of the imminent danger, are closely monitoring the situation and preparing for any assistance that may be required.


Tips and Insight from the United States Environmental Protection Agency:

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