In 2018, the Camp Fire destroyed more than 150,000 acres in northern California, making it one of the deadliest and costliest wildfires in U.S. history.
A few of the more than 18,000 buildings destroyed in the conflagration belonged to Our Savior Lutheran Church and School in Paradise, Calif. The sole surviving structure on the property was a large wooden cross situated in front of the parking lot. That cross is an Eagle Scout project, which still stands in front of the church after it reopened last month.
Jeremy Sill was a member of the church youth group in 1999. After talking with his father and Scoutmaster Tony Wren, he decided to construct the cross and a surrounding garden for his Eagle Scout project. It took about six months to plan and build, including installing irrigation and lighting. When it was finished, his project stood as a welcome sign to congregants. Since the devastating fire three years ago, it has taken on a new meaning.
Sill, now a father of three and a civil engineer, has visited the site a few times since 2018.
“I see it as a sign of hope, and it gives me joy. It speaks of life and faith. Sometimes, things happen in life that make you feel reassured of that faith,” he says. “I found out that it had survived about a week after the fire.”
The church’s membership dropped by more than half after the building was destroyed and about 85% of church members lost their homes to the blaze. But the congregants remained hopeful, and Sill’s Eagle Scout project provided the inspiration that they could rebuild.
Wildfires are again consuming land in West Coast states. It’s important to point out that the BSA doesn’t encourage Scouts or Scout leaders to put out wildfires. Whenever you see, smell or suspect a fire, call 911.
However, Scouts and Scout leaders can serve others by raising funds for those affected by fires and helping them rebuild after the fires have been doused. You can check with your community leaders, wildlife management department, state or local native plant society, conservation not-for-profit organization or local federal land management office for ideas on who to help and how to best serve.