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Gazette Premium Content Romney offers hand, message of hope during Springs visit

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: July 10, 2012 at 12:00 am

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney swept into Colorado Springs on Tuesday, recounting stories of inspiration from the destructive Waldo Canyon fire and encouraging the rest of the country to help Colorado by visiting.

“People around the country are wondering what can they do because we’ve all watched what’s happened here with horror as we’ve seen the flames and the homes lost and the stories of loss of life,” Romney said during a stop at the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado.

“People in the immediate community, of course, can bring in canned goods. But what can people do that are from Boston and New York and Chicago? Well, you can come to Colorado and vacation this summer,” he said.

“What’s happening is people are staying away because they think the whole area has been burned out. It’s not,” he said. “It’s beautiful as it’s always been and tourists need to come back … or else the suffering from this fire will be more severe than it needs to be.”

Romney, dressed in blue jeans and a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, worked with food bank volunteers, sorting such things as macaroni and cheese, cereal bars and crackers.

“There’s been a huge outpouring of support in the community to provide food to folks who have been affected by the fires,” he said while holding a big box of Fiber One cereal bars. “It’s an inspiring thing to see people step up to make a difference.”

Romney also met privately with fire victims.

Mountain Shadows resident Tonya Hall, a radio talk show host who lost her home in the fire, said Romney was “very personable” during his one-on-one with fire victims.

“It was a very intimate conversation,” Hall said. “I think he really did want to make a personal connection with the people that were there.”

Hall said there was a lot of discussion about how the community pulled together and how people care about each other. But people also asked questions, including why local governments don’t have quicker access to military aircraft to fight fires.

“I hope that he, when he becomes elected, that he remembers that bureaucracy shouldn’t come before the No. 1 role of government, which is protecting the citizens,” Hall said.

Romney didn’t get into specifics but said he would “help do a better job” and “learn from the lessons of the tragedies here” if he is elected.

“But the most important lesson is one we can all be inspired by and that is the willingness of one person to help another person to make a difference in solving the challenges of their life at a time like this,” he said.

Romney, who spoke to reporters for about four minutes but didn’t take any questions, lauded Care and Share and the community, saying people volunteered in “droves” and donated more than 1 million pounds of food.

“The experience here, heart wrenching as it is for those that have lost property and memories and the loss of two lives in the fire here, there’s also another side to the story, and that’s the story of people helping people,” he said.

Romney said he heard multiple stories ofselflessness, including utility workers who traveled from out of state to help Colorado Springs. He also said he met a young man who raced through flames on his four-wheeler to warn others about the approaching fire.

“We heard stories of first responders, particularly police and fire, that were heroic in their efforts to help people evacuate to protect homes, to protect lives,” he said. “This has been a story of inspiration.”

Contact Daniel Chacón: 476-1623

Twitter @danieljchacon

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