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WALDO CANYON FIRE: Nonprofit rises from fire's ashes

By: DANIEL CHACÓN
August 4, 2012
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photo - Bob Cutter, pictured in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, is heading the nonprofit Colorado Springs Together that as created to help with the rebuilding process after the Waldo Canyon Fire.    Photo by (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Bob Cutter, pictured in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, is heading the nonprofit Colorado Springs Together that as created to help with the rebuilding process after the Waldo Canyon Fire. Photo by (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Hours after the Waldo Canyon fire exploded, the U.S. Forest Service summoned a Type 1 incident team with special expertise to take control of the emergency.



The fire still was burning when city officials asked themselves: Who is going to take control of the recovery of Mountain Shadows once the flames are extinguished?

The city didn’t have a plan to deal with the aftermath, said Mayor Steve Bach, who turned to longtime friend Bob Cutter, a semi-retired technology executive, to spearhead a new nonprofit to oversee the recovery, restoration and rebuilding process.

“The concept that he and I talked about was really a private/public partnership, bringing together the various agencies at the city, county and state levels, combined with the resources of the private sector,” Cutter, 57, said Thursday.

“As you heard about many times in the news conferences, the Type 1 response team that Rich Harvey was in charge of, the idea really was to extend that concept into what would be a much longer term and in some respects, more challenging, recovery effort,” he said. “That was the genesis of the idea for what ultimately, within a few days, became the ‘Colorado Springs Together’ initiative.”

Since the formation of Colorado Springs Together, about 2,000 people have subscribed to the nonprofit’s email blasts and hundreds of others have contacted the organization through its website — coloradospringstogether.org — with inquiries or offers of support, Cutter said.

Among them is Matt Lieven, whose 1,500-square-foot home on Majestic Drive was “completely destroyed”  when the fire roared into Mountain Shadows on June 26. The fire, the most destructive in state history, burned 346 homes and killed two people.

Lieven, 35, said Colorado Springs Together has been a central source of information as residents navigate the next steps.

“You can’t lean on the city. You can’t lean on any one organization,” he said.
“Just in our neighborhood alone – what was it? – 140 homes were lost. That’s 140 (homeowners) that probably didn’t anticipate on having to either rebuild a home or find a new home. Any information that they can pool for us is more helpful.”

Bach said the nonprofit will help homeowners solve myriad problems and also raise money. The group will announce the location of a resource center near Mountain Shadows as early as next week.

“If you’ve got a need and you don’t know where to go, you go to them and they’ll just take your hand and work you all the way through the process,” Bach said.
“They expect to be there for three years. They think it’s going to take a three-year process to get through this.”

Cutter said Bach called him two days after the fire hit Mountain Shadows and asked him to consider heading the recovery effort. Cutter and Bach have been friends for more than 20 years.

“He was a client of mine when I was in the commercial real estate brokerage business,” Bach said, adding that they served together on the local chamber of commerce’s board of directors.

“I called him and asked him to meet with me just to talk about, could he get other community leaders interested in trying to figure out a way to help. He just ran with it from there,” he said.

Cutter, who used to run semiconductor operations along Garden of the Gods Road, is vice chairman of The City Committee, a group of business leaders who analyzed city operations and recommended ways to make the city government more efficient. When Bach ran for mayor, The City Committee’s recommendations were part of his platform.

Cutter, who was closely involved in the sale of United Technologies Microelectronics Center to Rockwell Semiconductor Systems, said his experience with “very complex, very costly, very demanding, very significant projects,” surely played a role in the mayor’s request.
“I suppose in his mind, the thought was, ‘Well, if you can manage that sort of complexity, maybe you can apply those skills to the restoration of Mountain Shadows,’” he said.

Cutter said he researched “various documents” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA, and other information online about how communities responded to disasters.

Three concepts emerged: the recovery effort needed a dedicated team; the team must move fast; and people affected by the disaster must be involved.

Cutter said he reached out to people who had “skills or resources to bear on the problem,” such as people in the insurance industry and a representative from the Better Business Bureau.

“I think what was very heartening is after having made each of those calls, not one person turned us down,” Cutter said. “It goes without saying. I think this is a community that responds to challenges.”

Everyone is volunteering their time, including Cutter, who says he’s been putting in 60 to 70 hours a week.

The nonprofit’s leadership team includes Chuck Fowler, president of the Parkside home owners association and chairman of The City Committee, and attorney John Cook, who worked on Bach’s election campaign.

Cutter said the group quickly shifted its focus to debris removal and created a centralized debris-removal program for interested homeowners.

“I think there would be no more significant step that could be taken than to get the debris out of the neighborhoods,” Cutter said.

Cutter said the group is working to provide a similar program to remove burned trees and dead landscaping.

“We’re working on that very aggressively, and I’m hopeful that that will come together in the next week or so,” he said, adding that putting down silt fences and straw to prevent flooding will follow.

If the removal of debris and dead landscaping and flood mitigation efforts are finished by September or October, then “I think the first phase will be successful,” Cutter said.
Cutter, who is from Great Britain, said he has lived in Colorado Springs for more than three decades.

When the mayor called him at 6:30 a.m.that Thursday in June, he said he didn’t hesitate to accept the request.

“Given what the mayor and our firefighters and public safety people have gone through as well the citizens of Mountain Shadows and Peregrine and many, many other neighborhoods, I think my response was along the lines of, ‘It would be inappropriate for me to say no.’”


Contact Daniel Chacón: 476-1623
Twitter @danieljchacon
Facebook Daniel Chacon

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