Kapunda parish pastor Les Pfeiffer knows exactly where God was during the bushfire which razed parts of the Mid North of South Australia late last month.
God was alongside the volunteer firefighters and farmers braving the deadly flames and choking smoke. He was with the sheep saved by sheltering in a derelict old house. He was even with those who lost everything—loved ones; home and workplace; livelihood.
The fire, which began (and also peaked) on 25 November, claimed two lives and destroyed 87 homes. It is also believed to have killed many thousands of livestock, burnt more than 85,000 hectares of land, and wiped out more than 300 farm buildings.
Members of Lutheran congregations, including those at Balaklava, Greenock, Freeling, Eudunda, Gawler, Nuriootpa and Kapunda/Bethel have homes or farms in or close to the fire-affected area.
Principals and school leaders in or near the fire zone (St John’s Eudunda, Vineyard Clare, Redeemer Nuriootpa, Faith Tanunda, St Jakobi Lyndoch, Tanunda Lutheran and Immanuel Gawler East) responded quickly and professionally to the fire threat. Some sites went into ‘lockdown’; others ensured students left with parents to head for a safe refuge as a family.
John Proeve, Director of Lutheran Schools Association SA, NT & WA Inside what’s going on inside our church the story said, however, that ‘sadly, there has been considerable loss of property experienced by staff, parents and relatives connected to some of the schools’, but he was thankful that no-one in the Lutheran school communities had been injured.
‘While there has been tragedy for some families, that there wasn’t a greater loss of life is something to be thankful for’, Pastor Les said.
‘The most important thing to remember is that while God doesn’t always rescue everything or everyone, we are not abandoned from his presence.
‘Tragic things happen sometimes but we’ve got a God who understands, who’s been through it.’
The flames came up to the Bethel Lutheran Church (pictured), 90 kilometres north of Adelaide, but did not damage it. However, crops on land adjacent to the church, which are grown by the members of Bethel and given away as part of the congregation’s mission work, were lost.
While Pastor Les said it was too early to know exactly what practical support would best help those hit by the fires, prayer was always needed: ‘To know that’s happening in the background helps people to simply keep going in the meantime’.
At Freeling, just 17 kilometres south-west from Kapunda, two Lutheran church members lost homes, while others had livestock, crops, feed, sheds, fencing and farm machinery destroyed by the blaze. One local farmer lost 1300 sheep. Parish chairperson Gavin Schuster, whose family lost a rental house, 600 hectares of crops, farm machinery and outbuildings, has been heavily involved with the relief effort in the wake of the fire. He said people affected were ‘being looked after pretty well’ by the church and local community.
‘We’ve had a lot of people ringing up, wanting to help’, he said. ‘Our Freeling Shed Men (men’s group) has virtually doubled in numbers with people wanting to be involved. We’re trying to provide a support network, keeping in touch with those who’ve been affected, having someone from the congregation touching base with them most days.’
Freeling pastor Peter Ziersch said it was important that support was ongoing, in terms of prayer, as well as practical help.
‘We’ve been inundated with help from the government, from aid agencies and families’, he said. ‘The real concern is that after Christmas, the sheer enormity of it will hit people when they realise they have lost more than they first thought, if insurance doesn’t cover them, for example. That’s when we’ll really need to be on our toes. We’ll take stock then and work out what people need and what the general LCA can do.’
The fire came within 100 metres of Geoff Saegenschnitter’s house at Greenock, twelve kilometres east of Freeling. Geoff, who is chair of the Greenock parish, Nain congregation and local CFS, said the flames were contained literally just over the road from the Nain church. It was believed the blaze may have been the fastest moving wildfire in the world, he said. Parish members lost sheds, crops and livestock, and his brother-in-law Kevin Schild, secretary at Nain, had a shed, three tractors, sheep and ten kilometres of fencing destroyed.
Also last month, near Esperance in Western Australia, four people died in firestorms that burnt more than 200,000 hectares, including 30,000 hectares of crops. More than 100 properties were affected. Among the Lutheran community, St John’s treasurer Trevor Schutz and his wife Marie were worst hit, with 870 hectares of crop and 670 sheep destroyed. A number of Lutheran families had to evacuate their homes, and some were away from their properties for several days.
St John’s pastor Jason Pokela said that while emotional damage is hard to measure, he was seeing a range of feelings. In a tight farming community, many people knew Freddy Curnow, a victim of the fire. People are grieving over his death, and also over the loss of livelihood and livestock, including the pain of having to destroy suffering animals.
Some people are feeling guilt that they still have a full crop while their neighbours were burnt out. There is frustration about the loss of crop yields due to wind damage (an uninsurable loss), and worry about the future, due to soil being blown away. For some, the stress of living in a dusty ash bowl is a constant and lingering reminder of the fire.
But Pastor Pokela also said the community ‘is really pulling together to help each other out through donations, opening their homes, and volunteering’.
You can reach out with God’s love to the communities commencing a long period of recovery.
Donations to the LCA’s Disaster & Welfare Fund will be distributed by the WA and SA/NT Districts. You can:
• Donate via LCA Online Donations: Click on the Fire Appeal slider on the LCA website
• Transfer funds to BSB: 704942 Account #: 13286 (S1) Account name: LCA Disaster and Welfare Fund
• Phone 1800 556 457 FREE
• Mail cheques, payable to ‘LCA Disaster and Welfare Fund’ to: LLL, PO Box 45, North Adelaide SA 5006.