COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In the aftermath of what is still 10 years later one of the most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s history, Waldo Canyon Fire victims needed hope, resources, and a plan to try to recover.
The devastation inspired people in the Pikes Peak Region and across the country and globe to participate in a fundraising effort that helped restore a community.
”It was like some supernatural force had unleashed the most incredible flame-thrower you can imagine down on Mountain Shadows. Our firefighters didn’t have a chance. Our city limits are right at the top of Mountain Shadows,” said former Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach.
Waldo Canyon Fire 10 Years Later: The city’s response and fundraising effort
The end result was hundreds of homes destroyed and lives forever changed. Mayor Bach said in the wake of the crisis, city leaders had some big decisions to make, but had more questions than answers.
”I asked our emergency management staff, ‘What’s our plan for helping people recover from this?'” he said.
Their response: “‘Well, we have a plan for rebuilding public infrastructure, streets, curb and gutter, utilities and so forth, but we really don’t have anything in respect to rebuilding lives,’” said Bach.
As people sorted through the rubble and what was left of their homes, Mayor Bach met with Bob Cutter, a personal friend and business leader who helped spearhead a private sector response to help victims.
“And honestly, I think the best thing we did was we got out of the way in the sense that we empowered people in the private sector and volunteers to march forward and we supported in every way that we could,” Bach said.
Then, the public got behind the restoration effort too.
“El Pomar gave United Way seed money to start a fund and there was a fund that raised nearly a million dollars for the nonprofits who were serving all of the people who had been affected by the fire,” said former City of Colorado Springs Chief Communications Officer Cindy Aubrey. “That is a tremendous amount of money in a short period of time, but it points to the generosity and the heart that this community has.”
The Waldo Canyon Fire Assistance Fund raised $940,000 in three months with donations coming in from 48 states and two countries and 18 organizations received funding. Those dollars ended up helping to provide housing assistance, case management, health and mental health services, food and clothing to people impacted by the fire.
“I’ve lived here a long time. This was peak spirit for our city. I remember saying I wish I could bottle this,” Bach said. “The people of Mountain Shadows never gave up. I can’t compliment them enough.”