Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund awarded Best Nonprofit Project
Perhaps it was the right place at the right time, but it’s not hard to see why the Grand Foundation’s Wildfire Emergency Fund has been named the Best Nonprofit Project.
The fund was created following an August 2020 board meeting after the Grand Foundation had been working through the COVID-19 pandemic and noticed a need for a separate, permanent emergency assistance fund. Punctuating the need, the Williams Fork Fire broke out about 15 miles southwest of Fraser on Aug. 14, only two days after the new emergency assistance fund was created.
The Grand Foundation initially seeded the new emergency assistance fund with $50,000. However, only two months later, with the Williams Fork Fire still burning, the East Troublesome Fire blew up on Grand County, torching over 193,812 acres and quickly becoming the second largest ever in Colorado. Its perimeter grew from 18,550 acres to more than 180,000 on Oct. 21-22.
In a phone call shortly after midnight Oct. 22, the wildfire-specific emergency fund sprung to life, recalled Megan Ledin, the Grand Foundation’s executive director.
The Grand Foundation opted to use $50,000 from the emergency assistance fund that it created in August to seed the new wildfire-specific fund. Ledin said they created the separate fund because it was evident very quickly with the Troublesome fire there would be intense interest in helping Grand County and substantial donations coming with that outpouring of support.
Since its creation, the wildfire emergency fund has raised more than $3.8 million and turned out or committed to providing more than $1.8 million in assistance.
That’s come with the fund providing direct financial support to the uninsured and underinsured homeowners — people who lost everything in the fire — and the fund has boosted local nonprofits in their recovery work, while supporting fire mitigation, landscape restoration, the cleanup effort and much more.
Even before the flames were extinguished, the Grand Foundation was hard at work alongside the county’s emergency personnel, taking referrals from the county’s evacuee center, to start addressing people’s needs.
“The basic needs — food, clothing, shelter — really came into play,” Ledin said of the days during the fire and mass evacuation.
She explained that the Grand Foundation also partnered with the Mountain Family Center at the very beginning and contributed over $80,000 to help fire victims with their immediate needs, and that’s apart from other joint recovery work that’s happened between the two nonprofit organizations.
In addition to its work with the Mountain Family Center, the Grand Foundation gave Mind Springs Health $20,000 to provide up to five counseling sessions for anyone affected by the fire — be it someone who lost their home, a first-responder or someone suffering from PTSD.
“We wanted to make sure that mental health aspect was taken care of,” Ledin said, adding that the foundation’s support for mental health will continue as long as its needed.
There was also $47,000 grant from the fund that went to the Middle Park Conservation District to help homeowners replant up to 100 pounds of grass seed free of charge. More than 200 homes have replanted as a result.
The Grand Foundation also connected with Southern Colorado Baptist Disaster Relief network and paid for equipment and volunteers’ lodging, so the group could offer free debris removal, both immediately after the fire and again in the spring following the snowmelt. In excess of $350,000 has gone to cover these cleanup efforts.
For renters, the fund has given out more than $356,710 so far. That represents in excess of 115 renters, or people who were renting, who lost everything and didn’t have insurance.
For homeowners, the foundation has awarded over $1.2 million to cover just over 160 homes that were underinsured or uninsured .
The fund has also given out or committed $750,000 for long-term needs, including giving the Grand County Wildfire Council $125,000 for things like long-term fire mitigation and free chipping days. The Grand Foundation also granted the wildfire council another $100,000 for removing hazard trees.
Other considerations in the future could go to fire departments’ mapping needs, uncovered flood mitigation and water quality issues that don’t get covered.
“We know it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” Ledin said of the effort, which has been boosted by 7,700 donors contributing to the wildfire emergency fund. “We know it’s going to be long term.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
The Sky-Hi News strives to deliver powerful stories that spark emotion and focus on the place we live.
Over the past year, contributions from readers like you helped to fund some of our most important reporting, including coverage of the East Troublesome Fire.
If you value local journalism, consider making a contribution to our newsroom in support of the work we do.