Eastland wildfire survivors thank bishop, faithful for support
FORT WORTH – They lost everything in the fire except for gratitude for the help they have received.
On May 16, families who lost their homes in the Eastland Complex wildfire came to the administrative office of the Diocese of Fort Worth to thank Bishop Michael Olson and the faithful of the diocese for the spiritual, emotional, and financial support shown after the fire devastated their community.
The survivors took time off work to present the bishop and others with flowers and cards to express their appreciation.
A special collection for wildfire relief has raised just over $120,000 to date, which was disbursed to eight families who are members of St. Francis Xavier Parish in nearby Eastland. Seven lost their homes, and another lost outlying structures for their livestock.
The donation from parishioners in North Texas “made us one” with the Diocese of Fort Worth, “so all of them have come to give thanks,” said Father Vijaya Mareedu, SAC, pastor.
Fr. VJ, as he is known, said allocating the funds was a “monumental task.” The eight families submitted estimates of what it would cost to recover their losses, a total of $680,000.
A committee considered whether the families had insurance (most did not), the extent of their loss, and whether children lived in the home.
About $88,000 was split last weekend between eight parish families, and about $32,000 had been distributed immediately after the fire for emergency assistance.
Fr. VJ hopes other agencies will provide additional help for the families as they recover from their loss. He has filled his garage and parish hall with donated furniture and appliances which he will store until the families have rebuilt and need to furnish their homes.
Any additional funds collected from parishes or the diocesan website, fwdioc.org/eastland-wildfire-disaster-relief, will be distributed by the committee.
On March 17, one of the largest wildfires in Texas destroyed more than 54,000 acres, and 83 families in Carbon lost their homes.
The Eastland parish quickly stepped up to assist, with Fr. VJ calling his parishioners that evening to check on their welfare.
Two days later, Bishop Michael Olson celebrated Mass at St. John Parish in nearby Strawn. The next morning, the bishop celebrated Mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Cisco, St. Rita Parish in Ranger, and St. Francis Xavier Parish. After the Eastland Mass, he prayed with the seven families whose homes burned and two young men who experienced burns fleeing the fire.
All seven families have returned to work. Planning to rebuild in Carbon, they have cleared their homesites of fire debris. The two burn victims are in the final phases of their medical treatment.