Wildfire fund sets in for long haul

New fund came just in time to help with East Troublesome Fire

A Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer searches through the rubble of a property destroyed in the East Troublesome Fire as the crew looks for a pair of wedding rings. The volunteer group is assisting with cleanup efforts in partnership with Grand County and the Grand Foundation.
Amy Golden/Sky-Hi News

The Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund was created following an August 2020 board meeting of the Grand Foundation, which had been working through the COVID-19 pandemic and noticed a need for a separate, permanent emergency assistance fund.

Punctuating the need for such a fund, 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. That fire grew to 6,122 acres on Aug. 16, threatening the towns of Fraser and Winter Park.

The Grand Foundation initially seeded the new emergency assistance fund with $50,000, recalled Megan Ledin, the foundation’s executive director. 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 as the second largest ever in Colorado.

The Troublesome stands the most explosive fire Colorado has ever seen with its perimeter growing from 18,550 acres to more than 180,00 from Oct. 21-22. At the same time, however, local hands were already at work.

“With the impact within 24 hours of Oct. 21 and the amount of devastation and tragedy that went with it, we decided as an organization, in talking with our various countywide partners, to establish the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund,” Ledin remembered.

It was in a phone call shortly after midnight Oct. 22 that the wildfire-specific emergency fund sprung to life. The Grand Foundation opted to use $50,000 from the emergency assistance fund that it created in August to seed the new wildfire-specific emergency 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 in with that outpouring of support.

“Even though we had created this perpetual emergency assistance fund (in August), we felt that the East Troublesome Fire took on a whole new being by itself, and it would be better not to comingle the two funds, so that’s where the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund was created,” Ledin explained.

Since its creation, the wildfire emergency fund has raised more than $3.8 million and turned out more than $1.8 million in assistance.

That’s come in the form of direct financial support to uninsured and underinsured homeowners who lost everything in the fire. It’s also boosted local nonprofits in their work recovery work while supporting fire mitigation, landscape restoration and the dreaded cleanup effort, just to name a few.

Even before the Troublesome’s flames were extinguished, the Grand Foundation was working with the county’s emergency personnel, taking referrals from the county’s evacuee center, to start addressing people’s immediate needs.

These efforts included but were not limited to rental and housing assistance, purchasing groceries for fire-affected families and more.

“The basic needs — food, clothing, shelter — really came into play,” Ledin recalled of the days during the fire.

She explained that the Grand Foundation partnered with the Mountain Family Center at the very beginning and contributed over $80,000 to help fire victims with their immediate needs, such as paying for rent. That assistance came 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 also teamed up with Mind Springs Health, giving the organization $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 local mental health will continue for a long time to come.

There was also a $47,000 grant from the fund that went to the Middle Park Conservation District. That money helped homeowners replant up to 100 pounds of grass seed free of charge. After 100 pounds, the homeowners received the seed at cost. More than 200 homes have replanted as a result.

In another big move, the Grand Foundation connected with Southern Colorado Baptist Disaster Relief network and paid for equipment and volunteers’ lodging. This allowed the group to 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 alone, the fund has given out more than $356,710. That represents in excess of 115 people who were renting, lost their homes and possessions, and didn’t have insurance. For homeowners, the foundation has awarded $1.2 million to cover just over 160 homes.

Additionally, the fund has given out or committed $750,000 for long-term needs, including giving the Grand County Wildfire Council $125,000 to for items like long-term fire mitigation and free chipping days. The Grand Foundation also granted the wildfire council another $100,000 for removing hazard trees.

“We got a lot of calls, and continue to do so, from homeowners that have hundreds if not thousands of trees that need to be removed,” Ledin said.

The fund also has $50,000 earmarked for work with Middle Park Conservation and another $550,000 committed for the county debris removal program.

“(Grand is) the Colorado headwaters, so we’ve kept some money aside if there are some water quality needs outside of (another program that’s working on water quality issues) in the future,” Ledin added.

Other considerations could go to fire departments’ mapping needs, uncovered flood mitigation and water quality issues in the future if other funding sources aren’t available.

“Those are some of the things that have come in front of us for what we should keep money aside for just in case,” Ledin said.

All of the fund’s monies will go out to help those affected by the fire. It has been boosted by 7,700 donors, including individuals and large foundations. Furthermore, the Grand Foundation subsidized credit card or merchant fees — which totaled almost $200,000 — to ensure the fund stayed at $3.8 million.

“We know it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” Ledin said of the effort. “We know it’s going to be long term.”

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