Santa Paula, California, December 6, 2017
A message appeared on the website of the St. Barbara Orthodox Monastery (OCA) in Santa Paula, California yesterday, stating that the nuns have evacuated due to a wildfire that broke out on Monday, on the monastery’s patronal feast day.
“Due to the Thomas Fire which began in a Santa Paula canyon last night, our community has voluntarily evacuated to Oxnard and Santa Barbara,” the message reads. Thankfully, the monastery’s valuables are safe: “The monastery relics and cats are safe. Thank you for your prayers and we will try to post updates as they come up.”
His Eminence Archbishop Benjamin also posted a short note on the website of the OCA Diocese of the West: “Today (December 4th), following the celebration of the first feast day of the Monastery of St. Barbara in their new chapel, a fast-moving fire driven by high winds broke out within a mile of the monastery. The nuns and their neighbors have been evacuated.”
An article on the Orthodox Church in America’s website note that the “Thomas Fire” began Monday evening in a canyon near Santa Paula, 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and by early Tuesday morning it had to spread to about 31,000 acres, forcing thousands of locals to flee their homes.
The monastery had celebrated the Divine Liturgy for its patronal feast earlier on Monday, for the first time in their chapel of Sts. Barbara and Eugene, which had just been consecrated in May, after years of labor. The 25th anniversary of the monastery’s establishment was also celebrated. That evening, as Abbess Mother Victoria and the nuns were sitting down to dinner, the fire broke out within a mile of the monastery, leading to the sisters’ evacuation to nearby communities.
“It appears that the buildings survived,” Archbishop Benjamin reported on Tuesday morning. “But, as no one can actually go to the monastery due to evacuation efforts, we do not know for sure,” he added.
Prayers are requested for the monastery and all who are in harm’s way.
Massive wildfires spread throughout northern California in October, forcing the nuns of the Our Lady of Kazan Skete in Santa Rosa and of Holy Assumption Monastery in Calistoga, both of the OCA, to evacuate as well.