COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - It's been seven months since the Waldo Canyon Fire devastated the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs. For many homeowners affected by the fire, dealing with insurance settlements in the aftermath has been a frustrating and, at times, heart-wrenching experience.
Homeowners met at the Colorado Springs Together Facility on Saturday morning to present their frustrations and concerns to a board of elected officials and insurance representatives.
One by one, emotional residents relayed their personal experience with their respective insurance company. Dr. Judith Brinkman, a physician whose home was damaged in the fire, said her relationship with her insurance agent quickly turned from collegial to adversarial.
"It's just dust," Brinkman said the adjustor told her. She said her insurance company tried to intimidate and harass her. "We are living in a toxic environment," Brinkman said. Her 11-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with asthma, which she attributed to her living conditions.
Other residents said they weren't thinking of insurance claims when they were evacuating. They were focused on getting out of their homes safely.
"I didn't think of shutting windows. I didn't even know if I had the door shut and locked when I left my home," one homeowner said. She went on to say that the insurance company closed her claim even though there was still a lot of work to be done in her home.
Jeff Wood spoke with KRDO NewsChannel 13 after the meeting. Part of his yard was destroyed by the fire and he and his wife also had to deal with smoke damage. Wood said hearing his neighbors talk of their experiences made him feel fortunate.
"I feel lucky actually compared to what a lot of people have gone through here," Wood said. He said he hopes the meeting will prompt some sort of legislation to prevent this from happening to other people in the future.
El Paso County Commissioner District 3 Sallie Clark agreed that legislation is the end goal.
"If legislation needs to be run, we have a legislator from the state here in addition to having the insurance commissioner put pressure on these insurance companies," Clark said.
Clark didn't know exactly how many homeowners were experiencing problems with their insurance policy, but estimated roughly 100 were at Saturday's meeting.
Colorado Senator Kent Lambert listened to each homeowner's complaint. At the end of the nearly four-hour meeting, he addressed the audience, saying some sort of legislation would be made but that details were not set in stone.
Jim Riesburg with the Colorado Division of Insurance, one of ten divisions of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), also addressed the crowd. Riesburg said that while he could not directly commiserate with those who lost their home in the fire, he hoped that this would open the dialogue between the community, insurance companies and lawmakers. Riesburg also noted that a lot of issues stem from individual policies or contracts.
Clark said this is the first meeting of many to address issues in the aftermath of the fire.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint, when it comes to recovery issues," Clark said. "This is a long-term effort that we're going to have."