In the days after the High Park fire ignited, SERVE 6.8 volunteers responded with water, prayer, and a listening ear. (See Responding to the High Park Fire.) In the weeks that followed, they continued to meet the tangible needs of those affected by the fire with no strings attached.
In the three weeks it took to get the fire completely contained, approximately 250 homes were lost. Of those displaced, some were owners and others renters. Many without insurance. Some lost more than their homes and belongings. The family of a young autistic boy had to relocate far from the small school where he had friends and individual instruction. One household, with four generations under their roof, was scattered because their local support system couldn’t care for all of them. Others lost businesses and the ability to perform their work when workshops, materials, tools, and equipment were consumed in the flames. Families were relocated to rental homes in Fort Collins, Loveland, Denver, and out of state while a few others are still in hotels.
After FEMA denied assistance to Colorado wildfire victims (since a high percentage of the expensive homes destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs were insured), it was up to local groups, including Timberline Church and SERVE 6.8, to step in and meet the needs of those affected by the High Park fire.
Due to the large trailers and hundreds of volunteers wearing orange T-shirts, the most visible element of help came through a partnership with Samaritan’s Purse. Over four and a half weeks, teams of volunteers were deployed to come alongside homeowners to sift through the ashes and find both memories and closure. Among the items salvaged were a wedding ring and numerous pieces of other jewelry, a china tea set, lots of Christmas tree ornaments, and the cremated remains of one family’s grandmother still resting on the hearth. In all, over a thousand volunteer days were spent helping people recover lost memories.
Less visible yet equally impactful was SERVE 6.8’s role in case management. Of those who lost their homes, approximately 85 registered with the Red Cross to receive help with food, shelter, and clothing. Of those 85 registered, 45 families filled out an intake form at Timberline Church’s/SERVE 6.8’s table at the evacuation center and the church in subsequent weeks. After an initial interview where specific needs were identified, a small approval committee was formed and met regularly to review the level of support we could offer.
In all, over $20,000 in gift cards to King Soopers, Safeway, Wal-Mart, and Lowe’s were given to help subsidize family situations without insurance. The fund to meet these needs came from a special offering at Timberline Church. Families were contacted to receive the gift cards and later contacted to see how they were doing and discuss current status and future plans. A few families were referred to counseling to help deal with their loss. When the Red Cross closed their cases at the end of July, SERVE 6.8’s case management team assumed regional responsibility.
Of the numerous needs met, one family with medical needs decided to relocate out of state to be closer to extended family and was given assistance with food and fuel for their trip. One man received help to obtain the part needed for him to fulfill his half of a work-swap arrangement. In another case, a family of renters spent hours cleaning up the ash and smoke damage in their home, only to be evicted when their landlord sold the property out from under them. Most of the gifts were used for fuel and household needs not offered at the distribution center while some were used for the chainsaws, rakes, and rope needed to clean up property. In one case, a team of 18 volunteers travelled high up into the mountains of Rist Canyon’s Whale Rock area to help rebuild a shed and cut down hundreds of burned trees to help control erosion.
In the aftermath of the fire, members of many local organizations came together to form the Long Term Recovery Group of Northern Colorado. This nonprofit group is training teams of volunteers focused on donations, housing, spiritual care, case management, and unmet needs for the next year. Based on their 501(c)3 application, they will assume responsibility for the identified families starting September 1, 2012. After the case management transition occurs, Timberline/SERVE 6.8 will continue to be available to help referred families.
When looking back, our response to the High Park fire involved walking through open doors to be part of the solution. We had the privilege to be where God wanted us to be in our community as servants to fill the gaps, show up, and do what needed to be done. The relationships built with local agencies and families will linger long after the fire.