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Lutheran Disaster Response

Situation Report: Colorado Wildfires


On Dec. 30, the Marshall Fire ignited in Boulder County, Colo. Over 6,200 acres burned quickly, forcing the evacuations of 35,000 people. The fire spread throughout suburban neighborhoods, destroying nearly 1,000 homes. While December wildfires are rare, the severe drought in the western United States created hazardous conditions that allowed the Marshall Fire to spread rapidly. This unusual fire is one of the impacts of a changing climate and will become increasingly more common.


The Rocky Mountain Synod is collaborating with pastors and congregations impacted by the fires to develop a coordinated response and mobilize resources for communities. Lutheran Disaster Response, the Rocky Mountain Synod and Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains will continue to accompany impacted communities during the years of recovery ahead.




Be a part of the response:

Please pray for people who have been affected by the wildfires in Colorado. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (U.S. Wildfires) will be used in full (100%) to assist wildfire survivors.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.
  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.

Transformative Waters: The Flooding of the Umatilla River


“Water represents an integral link in a world view where water is sacred and extremely important in preserving precious balance. Water is the origin of and essential for the survival of all life.”

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indians


Water is crucial to our survival. But water can also be destructive. During a multi-day warm-up in February 2020, melting snow and heavy rains caused the Umatilla River and its tributaries to overflow their banks. They damaged homes and buildings in the Blue Mountain region of Oregon and Washington, which includes Columbia and Walla Walla counties in Washington and Umatilla County and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.

On both sides of the Umatilla river – Oregon and Washington – multiagency relief centers (MARCs) assembled in the days after the flood. At these locations, residents received immediate, relief  assistance and registered for long-term recovery support from various relief organizations. The state of Oregon declared an emergency and sent funding to each of the affected communities. FEMA offered both public and individual assistance in the days after the flooding. As the Washington side was less affected, they didn’t qualify for any FEMA assistance. In total, 579 homes were damaged, according to Charlene Larsen, a longtime volunteer and associate of the Lutheran Disaster Response network in Oregon and a leader in the Oregon Synod Disaster Preparedness and Response network.


Damage was great and so was the need for a long-term recovery group (LTRG), a common structure in the disaster response community that allows for a holistic response. Representatives from both sides of the river, as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, came together to form the Blue Mountain LTRG. It’s a coalition of community organizations, with the local Lions Club, United Way of the Blue Mountains, Community Action Program of East Central Oregon, and the Blue Mountain Action Council involved. The LTRG also includes ecumenical partners and has disaster services from Lutherans, Methodists, Mennonites, Presbyterians, and Seventh-day Adventists represented.

One of the members of the Blue Mountain LTRG is Pastor Joel Ley of Christ Lutheran Church in Walla Walla, Washington, representing the Northwest Intermountain Synod of the ELCA. About the assortment of organizations in the group, he says “We’ve got all these people represented at the table and it’s pretty impressive because that doesn’t always happen. People dig in and do the work and that’s really nice to see.”

By joining forces, the group could do things that one organization on its own could not. Larsen told one story about how members of the Blue Mountain LTRG worked together to get a couple a new pair of recliners. A couple living in a mobile home lost their set of matching recliner chairs and didn’t have the funds to replace them, so a disaster case manager brought the situation to the unmet needs committee. An unmet needs committee focuses on helping people address needs not covered by insurance or FEMA money. One of the members of the committee found an identical set of recliners in Washington and another representative from the committee offered to pick them up. At the home of the couple, yet another member was there to help unload them. The community spirit was present, now on an even bigger scale.


2020 was also an unprecedented year for wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. While the fires didn’t affect the same area impacted by the February floods, the Blue Mountain LTRG was in a position to assist other groups in the state. They shared “all the documents we put in place for bylaws and recovery efforts, talking about different committees that need to be in place,” said Larsen, speaking about the process for forming a long-term recovery group. Last February, the Blue Mountain LTRG formed with assistance from another disaster recovery group in Oregon and the wildfires gave them the opportunity to pay it forward and share their knowledge with newly formed disaster groups.

As with all disasters this past year, COVID-19 has affected the recovery process. Doing one-on-one in-person case management interviews became impossible. Rebuilding and repairing homes is more challenging than normal because volunteers are discouraged, and contractors are difficult to find. When it is possible to safely bring in volunteers, they will be busy doing small repairs, especially on fences, wells, septic tanks, and irrigation systems on agricultural land.


People in the area are independent – when in trouble, they believe that their family and neighbors will take care of them. Early in the recovery process, there was a lack of trust by residents for organizations that came to support them, said Larsen. But over time, that trust grew. Out of the original 579 cases, over 300 have been closed. However, many remain open, and for that reason, the Oregon Synod recently received a grant from LDR to continue case management for survivors. The grant will help fund an AmeriCorps position. The staff member  will serve as a case manager and assist with the formation of a Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) for the Blue Mountain region. The COAD is an extension of the existing Blue Mountain LTRG. By building upon the relationships formed during the relief and recovery phases of the flooding, the COAD is preparing to respond to the next disaster right away and in so doing, contributing towards the community’s disaster resilience.


Catalyst. That’s the world Larsen used to describe the role of Lutheran Disaster Response in the Umatilla flood response and recovery efforts. An LDR-supported Oregon Synod Disaster Preparedness and Response network has been working to spread awareness about the importance of being ready for a disaster. At the time of its formation, its main concern was the Cascadia earthquake expected to hit the region at some point. But preparedness quickly turned into response, first with the Umatilla floods, then COVID-19 and wildfires. While there was still much to do to respond to the flooding, the Oregon Synod had a slight head start.

“LDR  is the catalyst in getting that going and now others are supporting with their funds. So, it takes one catalyst to get it started and, in this case, it was LDR,” said Larsen.

The importance of disaster preparedness was one of the biggest takeaways by both Larsen and Ley. In the Blue Mountain region, there was no preparation for flooding, or any other disaster, except for the early stages of the Oregon Synod Disaster Preparedness and Response network. The Blue Mountain LTRG had to form in the midst of the disaster. Ley said that it would be easier if relationships between the organizations were built beforehand. They both realize how unprepared the region was for disasters last February. A year later, with organizations coming together to form the Blue Mountain LTRG and COAD, they are confident in their readiness for the next disaster.


Water can give life and take away life. But water can also transform life. The waters of the Umatilla River transformed the Blue Mountain region. They brought different communities and organizations together to help everyone. They led to the establishment of an LTRG and COAD, which formed new relationships and strengthened old ones. The waters led to a transformation of how the region thought about disasters, preparedness, and the importance of long-term recovery.

“LDR has always billed itself as being in for the long haul and I had taken that message in, but I didn’t realize how important that was,” said Ley. “You do the initial work, but there’s a lot of stuff that hangs out there for a long time and without long-term commitment from LDR and other partners, there would just be a lot of issues that wouldn’t be addressed.”

In all responses, LDR strives to transform lives. From immediate relief to long-term recovery, LDR is present to support survivors and communities as they rebuild their homes and lives. Around the United States and around the world, communities impacted by disasters are transforming and becoming more resilient, ready for the next disaster.

Situation Report: COVID-19 US Response


Be a part of the response:

Please pray for people who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (General Fund) will be used where they are most needed.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook and follow @ELCALDR on Twitter.

Situation Report: 2019 California Fires



Be a part of the response:


Please pray for the people who have been affected by wildfires in California. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need. Pray that God will deliver comfort to those who mourn the loss of loved ones and strength to first-responders who diligently work to contain fires and care for affected communities.


Gifts to “U.S. Wildfires” will be used to assist those affected by the wildfires until the response is complete.


To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Share this bulletin insert with your congregation and encourage support.
  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook and follow @ELCALDR on Twitter.

U.S. Fires & Floods

The last week and a half have been a busy time for disaster response around the U.S. As wildfires continue to rage throughout Colorado, Montana and surrounding states, there have also been record breaking rainfall in Northeast Minnesota that led to flash flooding. Florida Tropical Storm Debbie drenched much of the state leading to rivers cresting past flood levels. Below is an overview of these disasters and how our church is responding.

Colorado Wildfires

Currently four separate wildfires have consumed over 20,000 acres destroying 600 structures and threatening thousands more. The fire has led to one death and a handful of injuries. It is hoped that all fires will be completely contained by the middle of July. The fires have also led to the evacuation of Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp, one ELCA pastor losing his home and one ELCA congregation having 95 percent of its members evacuated.

Our local partner, Lutheran Family Services of Colorado has activated its disaster response program and is assessing the situation. Much of this work involves connecting with local ELCA congregations and church bodies, like the ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, to determine the need and appropriate response. We are helping to evacuate several foster homes and are working with United Way to find alternative housing. Funds have also been disbursed to help Sky Ranch as they continue to host their outdoor ministry at a Presbyterian Camp. To learn more about the situation at Sky Ranch see the previous post Ministry Amidst the Flames.

Montana Wildfires

Wildfires are also threatening parts of the ELCA Montana Synod. The Rev. Amanda Liggett of Zion Lutheran Church in Roundup, Mont. said, “We’re doing alright. Lots of people have lost a great deal in the last 24 hours, but no human lives as far as I know.”

We are working with local partners to assist in the evacuation of two assisted living centers, one in Ashland, Mont. and one on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. In conjunction with St. John’s Lutheran Ministries and Lutheran Social Services of Montana, we are helping to provide food, toiletries and medical supplies.

Northeast Minnesota Flash Flooding

Last week Duluth experienced its wettest two days on record receiving over seven inches of rain in 48 hours. The affect was massive flash flooding that destroyed roads and homes, even picking up and moving vehicles. The city of Moose Lake was unreachable for five days because of high waters. In the early assessment much of the damage seems to be infrastructure, yet many basements are flooded and one member of the Northeast Minnesota staff lost their home. Hope Lutheran, an ELCA congregation in Moose Lake, was flooded but did not sustain any major damage.

Our local partner, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, is working to assess the situation and future needs. They are working through the United Way to coordinate volunteers and focusing on setting up and managing a long term recovery committee. This committee will help oversee the recovery until it is finished (a process of many months and possibly years). They are also working with ELCA congregation Hope Lutheran to host Camp Noah starting August 20th.

Tropical Storm Debbie Hits Florida

Tropical Storm Debbie brought heavy rains over many days that led to sporadic flooding and many rivers cresting above flood stage. Assessment is still on going as some rivers have still not yet crested. The state is reporting four fatalities associated with the flooding. There have been no reports of affected ELCA congregations or members.

Lutheran Services of Florida, our affiliate in the state, is continuing to stay connected with ELCA churches and church bodies in the area as they assess the situation. They have been  putting together flood buckets for distribution in more affected areas, like Hudson.

While the hard work of first responders and local agencies continues please keep these people in your thoughts and prayers. Also pray for our local ELCA congregations, church bodies and affiliates as they continue their work of being church even in the midst of disaster. May God give them strength, patience and wisdom.

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Fort Collins, CO: Ministry Amidst the Flames

One way we understand our work in domestic disaster response is that wherever Lutherans are responding to a disaster — Lutheran Disaster Response is present. What is meant by this is that our church’s response to disasters are not solely the activities of the churchwide office or the program staff of Lutheran Disaster Response. All activities by Lutheran members, congregations, synods, social ministry organizations, camps and others allow the church to be church in the time of a disaster.

I was made of aware of a great example of this through the blog of Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp, near Fort Collins, CO. A week ago (June 12) the camp was informed that it would have to evacuate since the High Park Fire was moving in that direction. Though the camp was not in any immediate danger its main road was going to be shutdown to all but emergency vehicles. This meant the camp would have only one exit road, which is less than the two required for safety during a forest fire.

The staff had just finished orientation where they had gone over the disaster preparedness plans of the camp, which included evacuation procedures. So when they were informed at 11:30 a.m. that they had to evacuate they were ready to head out by 12:30 p.m. In an orderly way, the staff moved the campers and all their belongings onto the buses destined for Fort Collins.

Once in Fort Collins, the group was welcomed into Trinity Lutheran Church where they found impromptu housing and food provided from members of surrounding congregations and local restaurant owners who heard of their situation. In the words of Andy Sprain, the camp Associate Director:

“We were welcomed with open arms, with rooms around the building being transformed into cabins for the night. Once we all arrived safely, we spent some time in worship, cabin Bible study, and congregational time. We then sat down to a feast–with over 85 pizzas, plenty of salad, and cupcakes for all — donated by local restaurants.  Everyone had more than enough to eat.”

After this first day of camp away from camp, the staff and campers of Sky Ranch were welcomed at Highlands Presbyterian Camp & Retreat Center located near Estes Park, CO. Here the work of Christ will continue in the lives of campers and staff alike, affected but not limited by the disaster.

This story is full of so many points worth mentioning it’s almost overwhelming. The value of disaster preparedness and having a plan for times of disaster; the outreaching of Trinity Lutheran Church, other local Lutherans and the community of Fort Collins; the fullness of the body of Christ in Highlands Presbyterian Camp creating space for fellow Christians in need. Whatever angle you take, this is the how the church is called to respond in times of disaster.

As the camp and its supporting congregations continue to move forward in their ministry this summer please keep them in prayer. Pray that God may sustain the staff in their changing context, that the lives of campers will continue to be touched and that the camp location and others threatened by the fire may remain untouched. May they continue to encounter what they have deemed the “Everyday Graces” of God’s people doing God’s work.

To find out more about the camp and their situation please check out: Sky Ranch Website and Sky Ranch Blog.