News Story

Blue Mountain Bushfires Worst In Over A Decade

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints served directly in emergency services working around the clock to protect homes and stop the fires from spreading.  They also served in a variety of beneficial ways from feeding the fire fighters to collecting and distributing new clean socks.

Nearly 200 families in the Blue Mountains area experienced the devastating loss of their homes and possessions from high winds and extensive fires, within the boundaries of Penrith Stake [Diocese].  It has been ranked one of the worst bush fire disasters in New South Wales in over a decade.  Fire-fighters faced an unparalleled risk from raging fires.

Although serving in a disaster zone is never convenient, disasters create unique opportunities to serve and can bring out the best in people.

One mother, Collette Spiller, had her husband and five of her sons, in a key local Rural Fire Service unit at one of the largest fire fronts.

When Collette was asked how she felt about having so many of her family members working amongst such danger she said, “My wedding anniversary was on the eve of the worst day of the fires.  I was grateful to have my husband out there with five of our boys learning what service before self was all about.  That was an anniversary gift in itself.”

Elder Jeffrey D. Cummings, a senior leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lives in one of the areas affected by the fires.  

“We were truly blessed and completely untouched by the fires, although it came right up to our property boundaries," he said.

"There were 193 families whose homes were destroyed and 109 additional families who experienced major damage within the immediate community. Our hearts go out in sympathy and compassion to those whose homes were destroyed or damaged.”

He added, "A Latter-day Saint family in one of the worst hit streets, Buena Vista Drive [where 43 homes were destroyed], were also miraculously saved with only part of a fence being burned and a window shattered."

The fires also saw one of the largest firefighting crews assembled, estimated to be in the thousands. One of the challenges with having so many emergency workers was how to feed them.

Loren Fragar, Leura Ward Young Women President, was sitting having dinner with her husband late one night early on in the campaign when they got talking to some ‘fire fighters’ in a take-away food restaurant.  “They looked really tired and they mentioned they hadn’t really had anything to eat all day.  That got us thinking … maybe the Church could help!”, said Loren.

Within 18 hours of hearing of the need, Emu Plains, Leura and Penrith Wards had prepared and delivered over 300 lunches to crews in need.  ‘Sandwich Sunday’ took on a new dimension for members of Penrith Ward who prepared sandwiches for their Wards’ after-church-luncheon.  They donated all the food to the emergency effort.

Keen to lend a ‘helping hand’ members of the Penrith Stake [Diocese] Relief Society volunteered by cooking in an emergency centre kitchen, set up to help feed the fighters.

Penrith Stake Relief Society President, Sister Evo Taupau, said, “When I spoke to RFS catering they were in a panic wondering where they would find volunteers at such short notice.  The very next day we had sisters within our state cooking meals for hundreds of fire-fighters.”

Only 16km from the fire front sisters from the Stake worked around the clock to help prepare food.  The food was then shipped out to the front line or gratefully eaten in the temporary Katoomba emergency centre.  “The fire-fighters could not stop thanking us all week.  It was so great to build relationships with people in our community through these simple acts of service,” said Evo Taupau.

“As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we tend to have the natural ability to immediately reach out and serve, especially during a difficult time like this,” she said.

Young Men from Baulkham Hills Stake [Diocese] also helped prepare homes and clean yards to mitigate the ensuing bushfire front.  Even a ‘sock drop’, delivering clean socks to fire fighters, was implemented by members of the Church during the campaign.

Many other stories are still being echoed in the communities of the Blue Mountains that of ‘Mormon Helping Hands’ in yellow bibs who gave aid to victims and emergency workers.  The Church now has a positive connection with those various community officials.

Where the Mormon Church was seen as a highly organized group, who were able to quickly coordinate emergency efforts, will be called upon in the future during other emergency relief efforts.  In the hearts and minds of the community, the many hours of assistance will not be forgotten. 

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