Diocese offers practical, spiritual support to victims of Eastland wildfires
EASTLAND — Beginning March 16, wildfires raged across the dry grasses and dense brush of Eastland County, home to three parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
Although none of the churches in Eastland, Cisco, and Ranger suffered damage, Father Vijaya Raju Mareedu, SAC, estimates at least 100 parishioners suffered losses, including seven families whose homes were a total loss.
Bishop Michael Olson celebrated Mass on March 19 and 20 at St. John Parish in Strawn, St. Rita Parish in Ranger, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Cisco, and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Eastland. After the Masses, he prayed with the seven families whose homes burned and two children who experienced burns in the fire before having lunch with Eastland parishioners.
Bishop Olson has called for a special collection for Eastland Wildfire Disaster Relief at Masses on April 2 and 3. The diocese has also established a website, fwdioc.org/eastland-wildfire-disaster-relief, where donations can be made.
The bishop has also requested that the diocese pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Eastland County.
Fr. Mareedu, pastor to the four parishes, said the presence of Bishop Olson is an “assurance to all parishioners that in a time of crisis, the diocese is with us. In times of joy, as well as in times of pain and difficulty, the Church travels together, forward.”
Fr. Mareedu described recent days as “horrible.” He has met each of the families whose homes were burned, but he said there are “no words to console them.”
The seven families who lost their homes lived in Carbon, which has a population of 272. Fr. Mareedu estimated that 90 percent of the town of Carbon was burned.
In addition to providing spiritual support, Fr. Mareedu has coordinated assistance with housing, clothing, and food. St. Rita Parish Hall in Ranger is serving as a temporary shelter to provide material support.
One bright spot among the devastation has been seeing the community come together, said Fr. Mareedu. Donations of clothing, water, and food began with local parishioners, and then came in from as far as Dallas and Abilene. Catholic Charities Fort Worth and various Knights of Columbus Councils offered assistance, according to the priest.
The Eastland Complex Fire began on March 16 and grew larger than 54,000 acres. On March 21, the Texas A&M Forest Service categorized the fire as 30 percent contained, but a decrease in wind and an increase in humidity were assisting firefighters in their attempts to control the blaze.
Four structures in the town of Ranger, including the 100-year-old Second Baptist Church, were destroyed by a fire on March 17. Fr. Mareedu offered their pastor the use of St. Rita Parish Hall, but he instead chose to worship outside. Bishop Olson also met briefly with the Baptist congregation on March 20.
A person has been arrested for arson for the downtown Ranger fire.