A fast-moving wildfire destroyed Holy Family Catholic Church in the far northern California city of Weed on Monday. A Presbyterian church, the library, a community center, and 110 homes were also destroyed. Another 90 homes were damaged, as was an elementary school and the town's plywood mill.
"This is a tragedy, very sad," Fr. Joshy Mathew, a Carmelite of Mary Immaculate, told KCRA television news. "But we are here together," the pastor said of his parish of 200 families.
Mathew had only a few minutes to leave the rectory before the wind-driven fire came through and turned the church, built in 1967, to smoldering rubble. The rectory remained unscathed.
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Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto asked parishioners in the diocese to pray for those affected by the wildfire, one of 12 raging throughout the state. Water sources were contaminated, and the town lost electricity. More than half of the residents had to evacuate as the fire moved quickly through the community. At least a quarter of the town, including the homes of four firefighters, burned.
Wildfires fueled by hot, dry weather have raged in the state for more than a month. California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in 11 counties, including Siskiyou, where Weed is located. He has also waived replacement fees for documents such as birth certificates and driver licenses that were lost in the fires.