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Let it Rain

Fires licked the edges of Kelowna threatening massive destruction when suddenly they disappeared. What happened? the TV announcer asked. Was it a miracle?

The fire raged on and on, one day coming closer to Kelowna, the next moving towards Penticton. Driven by a fickle wind, the raging inferno roared through subdivisions and parks destroying train trestles and trees, seedlings and saplings, greedily devouring everything in its path and then searching for more. Underbrush encouraged the fire's insatiable hunger, as majestic trees were reduced to charred waste. Thirty thousand people were evacuated and more than 300 homes destroyed. As stunned citizens watched in dismay, the firestorm lurched closer and closer.

Gay Mentes rendering of the Kelowna fire.
Gay Mentes rendering of the Kelowna fire.

One such citizen wondered if there was anything she could do to make a difference. How could she help? The thought crossed Gay's mind that if things got really tough, she should volunteer to assist with Emergency Social Services (ESS). She had done some training a few years earlier when the family lived in Winfield, but when they relocated to Kelowna she never did start going to ESS meetings. Now Kelowna was burning.

"Dear God, let it rain!"

Gay was assigned to the first shift of registering evacuees. People wore readable masks of shock, disbelief and fear on their faces. And yet there was an indefinable sense of camaraderie, a sort of we're-all-in-this-together unspoken fellowship. Families arrived with chickens, dogs, birds, cats, and everything else imaginable. Even a boat. As fast as they arrived, day after day, individuals and business and church people streamed in or telephoned to volunteer housing, food, water, pet care, clothes, sleeping bags, and much more. It was overwhelming to see the help pouring in—so many kind hearts, showing such concern. What a multitude of willing hands. "How beautiful heaven will be," thought Gay.

"Let it rain!"

The smoke was thick every day and, on particularly hot August days, most people remained indoors. Ashes were everywhere. Pine needles up to four inches long were found as far as ten kilometers away from the actual fire. Evacuees were in shock, some cheerful, others tearful, but in the few weeks of being at the registration centres, Gay cannot recall seeing any anger. People prayed, chatted to strangers at the gas pumps, and even met next-door neighbours for the first time.

"Let it rain!"

As the fire devoured home after home, Gay wondered what she would pack if they were put on evacuation alert. She had heard too many stories during her shifts at the Rec Centre of people who didn't have time to pack. They were ordered to "Get out immediately!" She could delay no longer, and now carried around papers and photos as she continued to work her shifts. Each day she wondered if the fire would be at her doorstep before she got home.

"Let it rain!"

Sure enough, a few days later the alert came to her street and the "Evacuation!" As evening approached on Friday, August 22, 2003, the sun set. Sabbath had begun and people were praying. Gay mentally reviewed her "what's important" list—the family, the dog, photos, important papers, a few other things. The guys took computers and she went through her hope chest and took a few items. Very few. Some clothes, a bit of food, an assortment of odds and ends, her son's bike … The decisions were made easier by the fact that all they had to move things into her little Firefly car and her husband's vehicle.

"Let it rain!"

Out they would go to the driveway with another load, and then pause to look at the orange flames licking their way closer. Urgency set in. They packed and prayed and stayed tuned to both the radio and television and for moment-to-moment news. When it started to sprinkle, they were standing out in the street. There was lightening, and then a huge crash of thunder, as though God spoke with finality: "I am the only One who can put this fire out!"

There had been no rain for 70 hot summer days. They said Mother Nature started this fire and only Mother Nature could put it out. Gay knew better.

Lightning started this fire, and only God could put it out.

All of a sudden the camera was just showing darkness, as though the fire had disappeared.

"Let it rain!"

The family trooped into the house to pack some more. The media reported that they were checking the TV camera on the roof. For days the camera had been pointing toward the fire. All of a sudden the camera was just showing darkness, as though the fire had disappeared. Gay marched outside thinking, "No way!" To her astonishment and disbelief, the flames that only moments before had been traveling a hundred yards a minute, were now gone. No candling, no flickering, no nothing. Unbelievable!

It was one of those moments when time seems to stand still. It's etched in your memory forever—the precise moment that the fire went out. It was so startling! The hush that followed was unexpected. Almost ethereal. No one dared speak afraid that the awesomeness of that instant should prove to be an illusion. So many stories would later be told about that very moment. One that particularly touched Gay was of a young couple and their two little boys in Westbank, just across the bridge from Kelowna. The family had been watching the firestorm through their living-room window, high up in the Glen Rosa district. The media reports provided a backdrop to their intercession as they all knelt to ask God to put the fire out. A few minutes later, when the family rose to their feet, they heard the announcer say, "What happened?" For a six-and an eight-year-old, it was a powerful lesson in faith.

"Let it rain!"

Still emotionally reeling from the unexpected turn of events, Gay and her family shut the car doors, returned to the house to watch the latest reports, and then went to bed. The family slept peacefully the whole night. There was no middle-of-the-night checking to see if they were still safe.

" … all the peoples see His glory."

On Saturday, August 23, 2003, Gay was listening to Michael W. Smith's CD when the song, "Let It Rain," (based on Psalm 97 NW) came on. The words washed over her: "Open the floodgates of heaven, let it rain." She played it over and over, then read and reread the first six verses of Psalm 97: "The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him and consumes His foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory."

Praise the Lord!

It rained.

It was the beginning of the end and the fire never escalated to that point again. Within a few weeks it was under control.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face … then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Gay's story was adapted for the book, Touch of the Master: A Book of Miracles, by Doreen Mattison of Winfield, British Columbia. Mattison's book is available from Trafford Publishing,

Gay's story was also published in the book, Touch the Flame, which documents people's experiences with the Kelowna 2003 fire. Touch the Flame is available through Chapters.

Gay Mentes, an artist based in Kelowna, B.C., is happily married to her artist husband Alex and is mother to Sharlet and AJ. She writes from Kelowna, B.C.

Originally published in the Canadian Adventist Messenger, August 2004.




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