As unhealthy levels of smoke from area wildfires continue to choke Southern Oregon with little sign of letting up, a Medford church and Native American tribes are coming together to seek a reprieve.
Jerusalem Center Church lead pastor John David Gomez is reaching out to his connections in the Native American community for an interfaith "Community Emergency Prayer and Rain Dance" set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the church, located at 6 Mace Road.
“If we ever needed rain, my goodness, we better declare to all tribes, not just people of our church,” Gomez said.
Gomez, who is part Native American, said the event is the way he knows how to help.
"We can pray, we can dance and we can plead with heaven to have mercy on our land," Gomez said. "What about the little creatures, the gophers and the squirrels? They’re going to be destroyed by the thousands.”
Inspiration struck Gomez Monday as he read a barrage of headlines on how Southern Oregon firefighters are struggling to make headway on wildfires and Los Angeles is fighting its largest ever wildfire. Locally, the Miller Complex fire, at 27,500 acres, has residents in the Applegate on Level 2 evacuation, and the Chetco Bar fire, at 176,770 acres, is threatening homes in the Illinois Valley. Meanwhile, the Burnt Peak fire is marching toward Union Creek.
"I felt like we couldn't wait," Gomez said. "If there was ever a time to pray, it was yesterday."
Scattered showers are in the forecast for areas impacted by wildfires starting Wednesday into Friday, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Petrucelli.
"That's not to say every place is going to get rain," Petrucelli said. "We just know conditions are favorable for showers and thunderstorms to occur."
Unfortunately, lightning — and the risk of new fire starts — is also in the forecast. The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for 11 a.m. Wednesday through 11 p.m. Thursday because of abundant lightning expected on dry fuels.
After the weekend, Petrucelli anticipates dry conditions and "warmer than usual" temperatures, though not as hot as last weekend.
The church has reached out to the Klamath Tribal Council to lead the ceremony, and will follow a traditional protocol. Because of Gomez' heritage and because his church focuses on missionary outreach to Native Americans, Gomez said the church has a reputation as the "Indian church."
"I have to remind people in the community that we have cowboys, too," Gomez said, adding that the congregation includes a diverse mix of races. "Just like any church group we're a little bit of everything."
The church encourages people to embrace parts of their culture they may have abandoned.
“We tell people we’re not wearing costumes,” Gomez said. “There are clothes people wear that help distinguish who they are.”
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.