As the death toll rose in the worst wildfires to strike Australia in recent memory, the nation’s tight-knit Jewish community mounted an effort to help citizens whose homes and towns have been utterly destroyed.

In the state of Victoria, where most of the infernos ravaged brush-land before turning towards population centers, the Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation, led by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum, was among several synagogues to amass blankets, linens, clothes, toys and food for the fire evacuees. The local Hatzolah Centre in Caulfield North will distribute the donated items.

“There’s a whole ballroom full of badly-needed items,” said Greenbaum.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took to the airwaves Monday after police announced that at least two fires appeared to be deliberately set. Rudd called the outbreak, which has killed at least 130 people, “mass murder.”

Fleeing homeowners described a horror of heat and flame that consumed everything in its path.

“I was working at the local restaurant and we were all carrying on like nothing was going on, but then word came that we should go home,” Mandy Darking, who lives northeast of Melbourne, told the Australian Associated Press. “Soon after, I looked outside the window and said, ‘Whoa, we are out of here. This is going to be bad.’

“I just remember the blackness and you could hear it, it sounded like a train,” she continued. “I raced home in my car, straight into the driveway, placed all the kids in the house and within two minutes, it was here. … It was as dark as midnight at 4:30 p.m.”

Echoing the shock felt across the country, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, announced a special prayer service co-sponsored by the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria that will take place on Thursday night.

One of the victims included the father of a hotel owner, whose Cumberland Resort in Marysville has hosted Passover vacations for the past 20 years. The entire town, just 95 kilometers from Melbourne, was claimed by the flames.

“We extend our sincerest condolences to the families of those whose dear ones have perished in these firestorms, and we offer our sympathies to those who have lost their homes, businesses, livestock, crops and communities,” said Kluwgant, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary. “We pray to G‑d for the welfare and recovery of the many people who have sustained injury and whose lives are now forever changed through these devastating events.”

Kluwgant also heralded the bravery of emergency personnel, which includes military troops deployed to aid in rescue efforts.

“On behalf of our communities and congregations, we express our deep gratitude and admiration for those who have gone well beyond the call of duty to fight the fires and bravely face the elements in seeking to bring them under control,” he said.

At the prayer service, which will take place at the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, representatives will collect donations of non-perishable food, money, clothing and personal hygiene products to distribute to those displaced by the fires, added the rabbi.