Colorado is vulnerable to wildfires and 2012 was a particularly devastating year.
By Susan Kim*
March 4, 2014—As the Lenten season begins, the Rev. Nancy Boswell spent a few moments quietly reflecting on her response to the 2012 wildfires in Colorado. A pastor at the Christ United Methodist Church in Fort Collins, she vividly remembers seeing a huge plume of smoke that sent her on a disaster response journey that has lasted more than one-and-a-half years.
“We spent several days calling people to check on them, figuring out what was going on,” she recalled. “It took about two weeks to put the fire out.”
The fire in her area was just one of a devastating series of wildfires that struck Colorado in the summer of 2012. At least 34,500 Colorado residents were forced to evacuate that June alone.
As massive as the fires were, so was the response, Boswell recalled. “When we had the first meeting of our long-term recovery committee at Christ UMC, 96 people came.”
With funding support from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and other faith-based organizations, that group became the ecumenical Long-Term Recovery Group of Northern Colorado, which proceeded to help scores of fire survivors. Response to other fires was just as intense.
“There were 257 homes destroyed in the High Park Fire and the long-term recovery group worked with 235 fire survivors,” said Boswell.
'Board by board, stick by stick'
While most of the long-term recovery needs in the wake of the fires have been met, some survivors still need to rebuild their homes.
Phyllis Kane, a case manager who is still helping people with lingering needs, said her training from UMCOR and the American Red Cross helped her understand that disaster recovery takes more time than people realize when they first see news footage about a wildfire.
“For some people, it took a year to decide whether or not they could or should rebuild on the same lot. People who didn't have insurance didn't have the money to do it. I'm still assisting people in their final stages of building. I have two or three clients who are just starting their building this spring.”
Like Boswell, Kane said that Lent is a good time to remember people whose needs are no longer in the news but are pressing nonetheless.
“It takes six to nine months to build a house—and that's during non-disaster times,” she said. “Fire survivors have more difficult decisions to make. Some of them spent weeks on debris removal alone.”
Responders and survivors alike urged people to pray for those still waiting to go home. “There is not much we can do at this point to accelerate the process,” she said. “You still have to build it board by board and stick by stick.”
Please remember those recovering from the Colorado wildfires in your Lenten prayers. And please consider giving to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.