Faith shines bright in the midst of wildfires

September 27, 2011

MAGNOLIA — Not the nights sleeping in their cars and on relatives’ floors, the fate of their home or the loss of their Shih Tzu dog Nugget in a relative’s swimming pool were enough to dampen the faith or spirit of Rosa Garcia and her family during the recent wildfires that raged across three counties northwest of Houston.

Like many in the Northwest region — Waller, Grimes and Montgomery counties — Garcia, her husband, four children and two dogs were forced from their home as the fires spread during the first week of September. The fires came close enough to their property to melt a plastic swing set, but sparing a nearby plastic statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

The St. Matthias the Apostle parishioners moved from relative to relative, but after Nugget died they chose to sleep in their cars to be closer to home.

Meanwhile, life went on. Out of school for the week, Garcia’s children, ages 19, 18, 13 and 11, helped clean up the nearby Wildwood shelter with their youth group. The family socialized with friends and neighbors, who also chose to stay close. They attended the Friday night high school football game, and after their final night in a hotel, attended Mass on Sept. 11 at St. Matthias the Apostle.

“We have a saying in Spanish, ‘Bad times give you good faith,’ and it’s true,” Garcia said. “Even before I left, we left in peace. It’s up to God whatever he wanted for us. We had our children and our pets. The material stuff can replaced.”

Returning home after a week, Garcia was happy to be back and grateful there wasn’t more damage to her and her neighbors’ properties.

Magnolia Fire Chief Gary Vincent said wildfires consumed almost 20,000 acres, destroying 75 homes and damaging 23 across Waller, Grimes and Montgomery counties. Vincent urged those who want to help that people to donate to area churches, the Red Cross and Montgomery County Food Bank.

Also glad to be back home were Margarita Guevara and Jannet Benitez, both juniors at Magnolia West High School and members of the St. Matthias youth group.

“We were just nervous wrecks,” said Guevara of not knowing what was happening to her family’s home in Ranch Crest. 

Guevara said they were packing up when they were told to leave immediately because of the approaching fires. Luckily, their property was unscathed, though Guevara said the nearby woods were charred and empty looking.

Benitez spent the week with her parents and two younger brothers at a hotel and later an aunt’s house, along with three other families, after escaping fires in Waller, where they live.

“At first we were kind of scared and worried because everyone was getting different stories,” Benitez said. “We knew the fire was close to our house, but we didn’t know if the house was in danger. We were worried about friends.”

Michael Sullivan, St. Matthias pastoral council president and emergency response liaison for the parish of approximately1,600 families, said as far as he knew only one family from the parish lost their home, and they are still trying to contact them to find out what they need. Otherwise, Sullivan said considering the proximity and scale of the fire, the families in the parish seemed fine. 

“Friday was not a good day,” Sullivan said. “We were watching debris falling on the church. But a lot of our parishioners went to neighbors or family, so everything worked out well. The biggest concern was getting back home and finding out what was left.”

Sullivan said they have received offers of support from other Catholic churches and people in the community, and they are directing them to donation sites in the city. †