ADRA volunteers along with Civil Protection Aid collect water and donations to go towards the emergency responders and displaced persons from the fires on the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains region earlier this month. [Photo: Northeast Mexico Conference]

March 31, 2021 | Montemorelos, Nuevo León, Mexico | Keila Urbano and Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in North Mexico began assisting hundreds of emergency responders from Nuevo Leon’s Civil Protection who have been risking their lives fighting forest fires in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains this month.

For more than two weeks, fires have destroyed hundreds of homes, displaced more than 1,600 persons and damaged more than 7,000 hectares, or 18,000 acres, in the states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon.

Fire emergency responders work to contain the fire on the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountain region in North Mexico. [Photo: Northeast Mexico Conference]

Initial regional response

ADRA has been delivering water and hydrating drinks, protein bars, personal hygiene items, instant soups, special shoes, clothes, water hoses and water tanks to fire fighters and emergency responders in the region.

“Our regional offices in the Northeast and Region Montana mobilized immediately after the fires started on March 13, to provide initial assistance to those fighting the fire and the hundreds evacuated in shelters father away from ground zero,” said David Maldonado, ADRA director for North Mexico. A collection center was established on the premises of the Maranatha Adventist Church and the adjacent community center in Coahuila, which  was not damaged, explained Maldonado.

ADRA leaders and volunteers assessed affected areas last week and delivered tools like shovels, picks and chainsaws to assist those in clearing debris, added Maldonado. “We have a group of young people who will be assisting in beginning the clean-up in dozens of homes this coming weekend,” he said.

Group of emergency responders and ADRA North Mexico volunteers pose in front of helicopter which has assisted in controlling the fire. [Photo: Courtesy of Manolo Acevedo]

Large scale response in the works

ADRA Mexico began its initial assessment recently and is working on a specific proposal to continue providing assistance on a larger scale, said Jorge Garcia, ADRA Mexico country director.

Nuevo Leon’s Civil Protection estimates that it make take more than a month to completely extinguish the fires, and Coahuila’s Environment Secretary warned that it may take more than 50 years to recover the lost vegetation.

First responders are working on the first phase of extinguishing the fires and containing them, explained Roberto Zambrano, ADRA coordinator in the Northeast region. Once that first phase is complete, the work will continue to ensure that the region is safe for evacuees to return home, he said.

Juan Angel Leal, a church member in San Jose de las Boquillas, in Nuevo Leon, stands in front of a gas tank by his home which was spared by the forest fire in Sierra Madre Oriental Mountain region. [Photo: David Maldonado]

The regional office has joined a group of 40 volunteers called “Jeep Riders,” (Jeeperos) who have taken food and relief items close to the camps where the fire responders are, said Manolo Acevedo, ADRA project coordinator in the Northeast office.

Church members affected

Several Adventist families lost their homes and dozens more were evacuated to shelters or to relatives in nearby Monterrey and Montemorelos, said explained Maldonado.

“This wasn’t a normal forest fire,” said Juan Angel Leal a church member in San Jose de las Boquillas, in Nuevo Leon. “We could see the fire advancing fast, like 10 to 15 kilometers in half an hour.” He said it was a miracle that the fire didn’t destroy his house. “All the pine trees around were scorched, but the fire stopped right in front of my gas tank and the house. If the fire had touched the tank and the boiler in the house, the whole house would have exploded,” he said.

What’s left of Jesús Jimenez’ home after fire swept through in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountain region. [Photo: Maranatha Adventist Church]

Jesús Jiménez and his family of were not so lucky. His house was destroyed, and he and his family had to be evacuated.

Many like the Jímenez family will remain in shelters indefinitely, and church leaders are waiting for the green light from local authorities to deliver food and basic supplies while they are displaced, said Pastor Israel Hernández, district pastor in Coahuila. “Our members in the Provivienda district immediately responded by donating goods not only to support their fellow brothers and sisters but the community as well,” he said.

Maranatha Seventh-day Adventist Church and its community center was spared as wildfires consumed  forests and homes on its path in La Sierra Madre Oriental region, North Mexico. [Photo: Maranatha Adventist Church]

To learn more about ADRA response initiatives in La Sierra Madre Oriental Mountain, click HERE

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