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Malibu Friars Safe

Serra Retreat, as it looked on Nov. 12, surrounded by a smoke-filled sky. (Photo courtesy of Michael Doherty)

As the world watches and worries about the people of California who are near the raging wildfires, Holy Name Province has been learning about the impact of the natural disaster through friars of the St. Barbara Province. Several live at Serra Retreat, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It was established in 1942 and has been the venue for many Franciscan meetings and gatherings through the years. 

MALIBU, Calif. — Despite the raging fires in southern California, the friars of St. Barbara Province at Serra Retreat are safe and sound. Last Friday, the premises of Serra Retreat were evacuated, with the exception of firefighters who have been given hospitality there during the ongoing Woolsey and Hill fires, which ignited on Nov. 9.

On the initiative of Fr. Mel Jurisich, OFM, director, upwards of 20 firefighters have been welcomed to Serra Retreat for much needed respite during their continuing efforts to contain the blaze. As of Monday, Nov. 12, Mel reported, “We had four trucks at Serra yesterday. We opened all the rooms, including the kitchen, to the firefighters and told them to help themselves to whatever they wanted to eat. They cooked dinner last night for 22 people, watched the game on tv, made breakfast for themselves, and then went back to their work.”

The firefighters work in 12-hour shifts, with crews cycling in and out.

Finding Shelter
Fr. Mel, former provincial minister of St. Barbara Province and Holy Name Province’s general visitor for the 2014 Provincial Chapter, said that the other friars in Malibu were all safe and sound and had either found shelter elsewhere or, like friar Michael Doherty, OFM, had elected to stay on during the evacuation period.

“Everybody is fine,” said Mel. “Tom Anderson, our administrator, has been doing an outstanding job. He and I have been staying with the sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet at their motherhouse. They couldn’t be more hospitable. Serra Center, of course, is a mess right now, covered with smoke, ash and leaves from the fire. But we’ll straighten all of that out as we go along. The important thing is that everyone is okay.”

As of Monday (Nov. 12), more than 150,000 people had been evacuated from the Malibu area, less than 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Approximately 90,000 acres of land had been scorched by the flames, with the loss of numerous homes, including those owned by a variety of Hollywood celebrities. Every shifting wind makes fire control especially hazardous and unpredictable.

The sky over the mountains near Serra Retreat. (Photo courtesy of Tom Anderson)

On Tuesday morning, a huge flare-up of the fire, caused by winds in the Santa Monica mountains, made the idea of returning to Serra Retreat before Thursday an impossibility.

In the Bay Area
Smoke and ash from the recent Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif. — abetted by high winds — continued to pour over portions of the San Francisco Bay Area the weekend of Nov. 10. With pollution at dangerous levels, residents were advised to stay indoors as much as possible. The devasting conflagration has so far claimed upwards of 50 lives and essentially destroyed the town of 26, 000 inhabitants approximately 170 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Fr. Charles, director of communications for St. Barbara Province, lives at San Damiano Retreat in Danville, Calif., roughly 30 miles east of San Francisco. He reports that because of the smoke, nearby Mt. Diablo is not visible from the retreat property as it usually is.

Editor’s note: Photos of Serra Retreat and the area around the property can be found on the Serra Retreat Facebook page

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