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Santa Barbara Residents Attend Services After Week of Havoc With AM-Fires

July 2, 1990

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ As firefighting helicopters thundered overhead, residents attended religious services Sunday to give thanks and seek solace after an unforgettable week.

With the fire that ravaged their community finally circled, the congregation at Coast Community Church of the Nazarene stood and sang, ″This is the day the Lord has made.″

″It’s good to be here,″ said Jim Hopper, who helped his in-laws out of their hillside home, which escaped flames. ″In some ways it’s an act of God we were spared.″

The widely scattered fires - ranging from Santa Barbara 200 miles south to San Diego County, killed two people, destroyed or damaged 520 homes and burned 22,000 acres, officials said.

The church, just a few blocks from a devastated Park Highlands neighborhood, is beyond a checkpoint where police threaten to fine fire-scene gawkers $500.

The Rev. Ira True told the congregation he had to rely on faith just to get to his job.

″I told the highway patrolman, ‘I’m here to preach.’ He said, ‘That sounds like a good idea to me,’ and let me in,‴ True said.

True read to the congregation from Isaiah, Chapter 43: ″When you pass through the waters I will be with you.″

But he did not read the next verse, perhaps just too much for this Sunday: ″When you walk through the fire you will not be burned. The flames will not set you ablaze.″

The noise from a helicopter also punctuated services at Saint Raphael’s Catholic Church, where many parishioners lost homes. Churchgoers there heard about the liturgy of rebirth through baptism.

″The liturgy for today is appropriate for what has happened in Santa Barbara,″ said Rev. Vincent McMurray. ″Let us remember that through death and death situations, we enter into new life.″

In the church hall, about 250 boxes of donated clothing awaited parishioners who needed items.

Parishioner Rosemary Varesio said many congregation members had lost their homes, but none had yet come to collect the clothes.

″I guess they might not have any place to keep clothing,″ she said.

At the Congregation B’Nai B’Rith, flames came within two feet of the building. Congregation members credit custodian Marian Grodel with saving both the synagogue and its torahs.

As flames approached, Grodel turned on the sprinklers, loaded the temple van with the torahs and drove away.

″I had no time to talk,″ said Grodel, ″It was my duty.″

Temple spokeswoman Evely Shlensky said the regular Sabbath service on Friday ″was one of thanksgiving and commiseration″ because 18 families in the community lost their homes.

″When there is so much destruction you really realize the sense of community,″ Shlensky said. ″There is the devastation, but the families were taken care of.″

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