More than six months after the Waldo Canyon fire, what began as homeowners’ disjointed struggles with insurance companies has become a large group of justice-driven residents who are appealing for political help under the auspices of a new group.
On Saturday morning, nearly 30 people gathered at Colorado Springs Fire Station 18 to share their stories of smoke damage and total home loss. They also approved a letter addressed to Mayor Steve Bach from the Waldo Canyon Fire Victims Association.
Hours after the meeting, Bach called Gerry Weitz, who composed the letter, to talk about the group’s goals and grievances, primarily against insurers.
With Bach’s introduction, Weitz then spent several hours on Saturday night with Colorado Springs Republican state Sen. Kent Lambert, who promised to circulate the letter to politicians across the state, including, perhaps, to Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“I mean, I wasn’t in my house ten minutes and (Bach) called me on the phone,” Weitz said. “I was really grateful for his responsiveness.”
Cindy Aubrey, the city’s chief communications officer, attended the earlier meeting and stressed that these issues are of “high priority for the mayor’s office.”
Weitz, who says that his Rossmere Drive home was damaged heavily by smoke, read the letter aloud to the group.
“I took the liberty of naming the group,” he said, as copies of the three-page letter were passed around.
The group coalesced by word of mouth over the past two months as frustrated homeowners reached out to neighbors and discovered that they are all in the same boat. Most are crusading against their insurance companies, and battling for damage settlements in the wake of the fire.
Saturday’s meeting brought together homeowners from across the spectrum of fire-related damages, uniting those like Dale and Diana Hendershot, whose home sustained soot damage, and Steve Price and Karla Heard-Price, whose home was destroyed.
“One thing that we all have in common is that insurance companies are not willing to make us perfect,” Weitz said.
Now that they have come together, the group needs organization and structure, Weitz said. By the end of the four-hour meeting, the group had delegated tasks to individuals, such as printing posters, collecting photos, and calling fire department officials.
Part of the partial loss group, the Hendershots have been fighting Farmers Insurance Group for money to clean their house on Tamora Way. They say soot particles could erode insulation and damage furniture unless the house is professionally cleaned. They have spent weeks gathering neighbors and acquaintances, all Farmers clients, with similar complaints.
The Hendershots started hosting meetings at their house and on Saturday the group expanded to include American Family and USAA clients and Rockrimmon residents, who want insurance companies to pay for smoke damage.
Their stories share many similar frustrations and setbacks. For Mike Currey, battling his insurance company has become “a vendetta and a crusade,” he told the group. Judy Brinkman’s family claims health problems from living in a smoke damaged house.
“My son’s now an asthmatic,” she said. “These are not short-term health problems.”
The soot that filtered into hundreds of homes in northwestern Colorado Springs during the fire can be considered highly damaging if the particle’s pH levels are not neutral, industrial hygienists say. Severely smoke damaged homes require an intensive, chemical cleaning job.
For the Waldo Canyon Victims Association, the insurance dilemma is one that could resonate with thousands of Americans whose homes survived major wildfires last summer.
They could all be struggling to have their claims paid by insurance companies, Brinkman pointed out.
“This is all through the west,” she said. “And if we don’t change these tactics, this is what corporate America is doing.”
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261