April 7, 2021

In Mexico, ADRA Assists Responders Battling Massive Forest Fires

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 agency who have been risking their lives fighting forest fires in the Sierra Madre Oriental range in northeastern Mexico in March 2021.

For more than two weeks, fires destroyed hundreds of homes, displaced more than 1,600 persons, and damaged more than 17,000 acres (7,000 hectares) in the states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon.

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 firefighters and emergency responders in the region.

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

ADRA leaders and volunteers assessed affected areas and delivered tools like shovels, picks, and chainsaws to assist those who are clearing debris, Maldonado added. “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.

Large-Scale Response in the Works

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

Nuevo Leon’s Civil Protection agency estimates that it may take more than a month to completely extinguish the fires, and Coahuila's environment secretary warned that it might 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, Roberto Zambrano, ADRA coordinator in the Northeast region, explained. Once that first phase is complete, the work will continue to ensure that the region is safe for evacuees to return home, he said.

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

Church Members Affected

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

“This wasn’t a normal forest fire,” Juan Angel Leal, a church member in San José de las Boquillas, in Nuevo Leon, said. “We could see the fire advancing fast, like 10 to 15 kilometers [6 to 9 miles] 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.

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

Many like the Jiménez family will remain in shelters for the time being, and church leaders are waiting for the green light from local authorities to deliver food and basic supplies while they are displaced,  Israel Hernández, district pastor in Coahuila, said. “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.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.