When fires swept through Harbison Canyon near San Diego, October 25 and 26, it destroyed almost half of the homes in the community—along with the canyon's only church. Mark Mueller, pastor of Emmanuel Christian Church, was on vacation in Lake Tahoe with his family when they learned of the inferno. A friend from their church saved some of the family's most important items, but could not prevent the church and the Muellers' home from burning down, along with those of nine other church members—more than a third of his 25-family congregation.

On their return, Mueller tried to prepare his three children to see their home in ashes. But, he says now, he was not prepared for the outpouring of compassion from churches around the country, nor for the opportunities Emmanuel Christian Church would have to become more involved in the lives of the residents of Harbison Canyon.

The part of the so-called Cedar fire that raged through Harbison Canyon destroyed more than 280,000 acres, 2,232 residences, cost $27 million, left 14 dead, and injured 104 firefighters before they finally brought it under control. The California Department of Forestry said it took 1,478 firefighters to combat the blaze. According to residents who stayed, says Mueller, the fire swept down the 500-foot hills in seconds. The intense heat melted his family's play set that remained 50 feet away from the flames, leaving only a puddle of plastic.

When Red Cross volunteer Jim Garlow arrived in the canyon, he saw no emergency services. Garlow, who is also senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, was sent by the Red Cross to help the residents of Harbison Canyon. "I was absolutely stunned," Garlow said. "It was considerably worse than I expected. I could hardly ...

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