COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A non-profit citizen foundation has formed to provide more assistance to victims of the Waldo Canyon wildfire.
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach announced the new effort, called "Colorado Springs Together," on Monday at Fire Station 18 in the affected Mountain Shadows neighborhood.
Bach said a group of 25 citizens created the foundation specifically to boost community spirit and provide resources for cleanup and rebuilding that aren't covered by insurance.
"We're breaking new ground here," said Bach. "There's no playbook for how to rebuild 346 homes in the same neighborhood that were destroyed by a wildfire."
Bach said the effort involves soliciting financial donations and may include federal funds. Some donations he described as "sizeable" already have been made and will be revealed soon, he said.
Bob Cutter, the foundation's chairman, said the effort is modeled after similar efforts in other disasters. He said the top priority is removing the debris of destroyed homes as soon as possible.
"We want to coordinate," said Cutter. "We want to help homeowners, not confuse them. They need a hope, a belief and a vision that they can rebuild. We want to make the process as simple as possible."
Affected homeowners generally were positive about the foundation, and hope it corrects what some believe has been a lag in important information about how to safely salvage remaining possessions, quickly and safely remove debris and when to start reconstruction.
"We don't know yet whether we're going to rebuild," said Georgia Moen, who lost her home in the fire. "There are too many unknowns."
Moen also elaborated on a question she asked during the announcement, about what the protocol is for safely sifting through debris to find personal items.
What are we supposed to wear?" she asked. "What kind of equipment do we use? What kind of outside help can we get?"
Kerri Olivier, a 21-year neighborhood resident whose home withstood the fire, said she's concerned about whether every neighbor will promptly remove debris because there are many absentee owners.
"There are going to be arguments between insurance companies and homeowners," she said. "That can take up to two years in the courts, I hear, to settle before they have money in their hands to deal with this. Meanwhile, there's ash blowing around--possibly toxic--and there's a flash flood danger."
Still, some homeowners said any effort that makes the process easier for neighbors still in shock at losing their homes, is a positive development.
Raymond Buday has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years and thinks the rebuilding effort will succeed. However, he doesn't plan to be there to see it through.
"My intention is to sell my property," he said. I'm 81 years old. I don't really have time to watch the development and take care of that."
For more information, visit the foundation's website at www.ColoradoSpringsTogether.org.