New list of immediate needs (Dec. 3 update)
Story below updated 7:30 p.m., Dec. 1
ALCOA, Tenn. (Nov. 29, 2016) – Holston Conference leaders are asking United Methodists to be prepared but patient while waiting for information about how best to help victims of a wildfire that last night damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses in Gatlinburg and other parts of Sevier County, Tenn.
The Knoxville News Sentinel has most recently reported that 10 people were confirmed dead and more than 14,000 residents were temporarily displaced.
Holston leaders are checking on churches, parsonages and members in the tourist region now turned disaster area and have released a list of properties that are currently safe and undamaged.
“Our emergency person is in touch with TEMA. They’re not allowing anyone into Gatlinburg so we don’t know yet what the needs are,” said the Rev. Charles Maynard, superintendent of 64 churches in the Maryville District, including those in the wildfire area.
Maynard said he has communicated with pastors of these churches and the related parsonages, all of which are safe:
First Pigeon Forge UMC
Burnett Memorial UMC
Walden’s Creek UMC
Union Grove UMC
Pleasant Hill UMC (Sevierville)
Wears Valley UMC
Cedar Bluff UMC (Sevierville)
First Sevierville UMC
Murphy’s Chapel UMC
Middle Creek UMC
Huskey's Grove UMC
In Loudon County, where another fire is burning, Bethel United Methodist Church is safe, despite inaccurate reports on social media, Maynard said. Another fire is burning in Monroe County. After initial concerns, Maynard learned later today that First Tellico Plains UMC and Ironsburg UMC are currently safe.
The Rev. Mike Sluder, Holston director of connectional ministries, said information will be forthcoming on immediate needs and long-term relief for fire victims in Sevier County and other areas.
Earlier today, the Alcoa Conference Center (217 S. Rankin Road, Alcoa, Tenn.) announced that it would accept donations of these items to provide aid to firefighters. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.:
“If you are not near the Alcoa Conference Center, consult your local Red Cross for immediate needs,” Sluder said.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has contacted Holston’s disaster-relief director and has offered financial aid, Sluder said.
Holston Conference will also accept financial donations with checks made to “Holston Conference” and “Holston Wildfire #864” on the memo line. Mail to: Holston Conference, P.O. Box 850, Alcoa, TN 37701. Online giving is also possible at Holston.org/wildfires.
“Right now we are not sure of all the needs,” Sluder said. “As we transition into long-term recovery I am sure some of the funds will be available to help supply work teams with needed relief supplies.”
Maynard said he will provide more information about other church properties and church members’ homes soon.
On Monday night, The Connexion housed 35 evacuees from the Sevier County area, most from the Ministerio del Espiritu Santo congregation, said the Rev. Susana Lopez. She said The Connexion will remain open tonight for residents in need of shelter.
Help pours in while church leaders wait for Gatlinburg fires to stop (12/1/16)
Bishop Taylor: 'We have a connection that is open and working' (11/30/16)
Wildfires in Holston: Members have close calls, opportunities to help (11/22/16)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.