Scott Ross had been a chaplain for his local fire department in Aurora, Colorado, only six months when he decided to ride with the crew on December 30 to watch them battle a small grassfire.
It was, he thought at the time, a "great opportunity" to watch the men in action. Ross had begun his firefighter training – but had not yet completed it.
"They let me go," Ross told Christian Headlines. "There was a little bit of apprehension, I know on their part, but they let me go anyway."
Soon, though, Ross and the others realized that the situation was far more dangerous than anyone had envisioned. Buildings were ablaze. Embers were flying through the air. Winds were blowing over the hills and across the land, making the fire difficult to control.
"They kept talking about it being apocalyptic," Ross said, referencing the firefighters.
Before the day was over, Ross and the firefighters for Sable Altura Fire Rescue had witnessed the most destructive fire in Colorado history. The "Marshall Fire" – so named because of its proximity to the community of Marshall – destroyed more than 1,000 homes across some 6,000 acres.
Ross, who also serves as the director of church engagement for the American Bible Society, donned his gear and helped fight it. All total, he battled the fire for about 12 hours.
"The leader just said 'everybody out.'... It was clear that we were going to need everybody," Ross said. "We had five of us in our vehicle. And then there was another department we were partnering with. And so we were all out there doing everything we could.
"... I knew to trust my gear. And I knew to trust my leaders. And so I just did whatever they asked me to do. … I wasn't apprehensive. I was praying the whole time."
But for much of the day, there was little the firefighters could do.
"You see a house standing and within minutes, a burning ember flies over, lands in their yard, and their entire house is engulfed in flames," Ross said. "It's somewhat of a helpless feeling. And as I was watching, I was thinking, 'These are people's entire lives just being consumed.' But I couldn't really feel all of those feelings because we were so busy doing what we were doing. And I was thinking about these firefighters and thinking these guys are crazy-courageous. They'll walk right up to the fire and just address it."
Ross also helped minister to the spiritual needs of those involved, including the firefighters. American Bible Society has distributed two resource guides to area churches: Beyond Disaster and God is our Shelter and Strength.
"Scripture is grounding for people. And it connects them to God," Ross told Christian Headlines. "... My prayer, honestly, for these people who've lost so much is that not that they would rebuild to something that was – but they would now build something new, and clearly, that Scripture would be a foundational part of that. And I believe it will be for a lot of these people and their relationship with God. When you lose everything, it really causes you to ask new kinds of questions."
Photo courtesy: Pastor Scott Ross
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.