Episcopalians respond to San Bruno fire

Posted on September 10, 2010
On Thursday, September 9, 2010, at 6:15 pm, a gas main exploded under a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. Now, some 15 hours later, the true cause of the explosion remains under investigation, four people are known to be dead; more than 50 were injured; more than 50 homes destroyed; over 100 damaged; and 280 people slept in shelters last night.


Upon hearing of the disaster, Episcopalians in the Diocese of California quickly mobilized to help out. The Rev. Karen Swanson, until recently Vicar of St. Andrew’s, San Bruno, joined the Rev. Chip Larimore, Rector of St. Peter’s, Redwood City, at a Red Cross relief center one block from St. Andrew’s. As of 2 a.m., Swanson was unable to determine if any members of St. Andrew’s church or preschool were affected by the fire, but said she would resume her attempts to recognize those in need today. According to Swanson, St. Andrew’s member, Danielle Brewer, manager of the veteran’s recreation facility that housed the Red Cross relief center worked tirelessly through the night.


Larimore reports that a parishioner lived in the fire zone, and determined before 9 p.m. that the parishioner was visiting with family in Santa Rosa. That parishioner also had family members who lived in the area as well and reported that they were in Half Moon Bay at the time of the explosion. As of this morning, no other Episcopalians have been identified as living in the area, but many from area churches are reporting that they had friends and loved ones who live in the affected neighborhoods.


Around 7 p.m., the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus was alerted of the explosion and fire and he quickly contacted hospital chaplains and clergy in the area, mobilizing them for chaplaincy work at area hospitals. Chaplains were deployed to Seton Medical Center, Daly City; Kaiser Hospital in South San Francisco; the burn unit at St. Francis in San Francisco; and Sojourn Chaplaincy prepared for injured to arrive at San Francisco General Hospital. Clergy from Grace Cathedral went to St. Francis located five blocks from the cathedral.


The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe immediately contacted clergy and lay leaders at Episcopal churches in the surrounding area. “The great work we’ve been doing in Area Ministry,” Barlowe said, “in building cooperation and collaboration, worked for us, and because of bonds built in that work we were quickly able to help each other and our community.”


St. Andrew’s Bishop’s Committee Warden, Carol Driscoll, and Barlowe have been in e-mail contact and both agree that the best plan is to cooperate with plans authorities have put together and to continue to update the diocese as needs arise. SF Gate has an excellent resource on how to find information or direct assistance. The link has information about area blood centers, and Swanson says that from what she has determined, donating blood is one of the best ways to provide immediate assistance.


Andrus wrote a prayer that was posted on www.diocal.org during the peak of the inferno. That prayer is:


As fires rage through San Bruno we pray for all those in harms way –– for residents and firefighters –– keep them safe good Lord. For those who have been injured, we pray for comfort and healing and for the EMTs, nurses and physicians who care for them. For the displaced, may they have shelter and the comfort of your Holy Spirit. And for those who have died, may they be held in your bosom, loving God. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.