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Members help fight fires with a flood of service

SHARE Members help fight fires with a flood of service

SYDNEY, Australia — On Dec. 25, a firestorm, fueled by a combination of extreme temperatures, dry heat and strong winds, threatened Tracy Maurer's home located just outside of Sydney.

Firefighters predicted the Maurers, members of the Richmond Ward, Penrith Australia Stake, would lose their home. Instead, for 14 days, Church members helped fight the fires, cleared bushland, watched children, shifted furniture, hauled water and cooked meals for the Maurers and other Church and community members.

"Brothers and sisters worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the rural bush fire brigade to protect homes," Sister Maurer said. "Of the many properties that were under threat within the ward only one shed was lost."

The blaze was one of more than 100 fires burning around Sydney, sending 100-foot-high flames racing across thousands of acres of wilderness and farmland. No lives were lost in the fires, which destroyed 170 houses and led to thousands of evacuations. However, more than 20,000 firefighters continued to fight the blazes as of Jan. 8.

Elder Kenneth Johnson of the Seventy and president of the Australia/New Zealand Area said although a few member families had very close situations with the fires, and many more had to evacuate homes, no member homes were lost. One member family, however, lost nearly $30,000 worth of equipment.

While the Church will provide humanitarian aid to the community if necessary, he said, the main effort at the moment is fire containment. Local authorities, he added, are helping the people who lost homes.

He said that Church members have found numerous ways to give service.

After fire came within 50 meters of their home, Tanya Smith's family took their Christmas Day food and served the local fire crews. "This was not an unusual occurrence during this crisis," said Sister Smith of the Penrith Australia Stake.

Randall Howard, first counselor in the Penrith stake presidency, said more than 24 Church members in the stake worked in tandem with the bush fire brigade for six days straight on a rotating basis.

"The saints pulled together," he said. Local officials and fire crews, he added, "were certainly amazed we could have such a strong support group for such a sustained period of time."

Rallying the LDS volunteers took no more than one phone call, President Howard said. "We had people put off their vacation. Not because we asked them to, just because they did that."

Most important, he said, members in Sydney prayed and fasted Jan. 6 for the fires to end. It rained the next day, helping firefighters in that effort.

Now, President Howard said, members plan to mop up and clean up. "We stopped many homes from burning but there is still a lot of damage to property and the area. We will help [the community] get back to as normal as possible."