Part of disaster relief after Waldo Canyon fire is preventing next one

June 23, 2013 Updated: June 23, 2013 at 10:15 am

Three miles of logs for erosion control.

More than 8,000 sandbags guarding against floodwaters.

They all add up to one fact: For every $5 donated to the Pikes Peak United Way for Waldo Canyon fire relief, $1 was spent preparing for the next disaster.

And the United Way wasn't alone.

Across the Pikes Peak region, nonprofit organizations and foundations gifted with millions of dollars to deal with the June 2012 blaze decided to use much of that money preparing for flash floods or the region's next megafire.

It was a fortuitous bit of foresight: Two weeks before the anniversary of the Waldo Canyon firestorm that barreled into Mountain Shadows, the Black Forest fire ignited north of Colorado Springs and destroyed more homes than any other blaze in the state's history.

As people responded to the Black Forest fire, hints of the money donated for the Waldo Canyon fire could be seen across the Pikes Peak region.

The American Red Cross set aside $100,000 for disaster preparation at its Pikes Peak chapter, said Tom Gonzalez, the chapter's chief executive.

The agency bought four pickups, six emergency-supply trailers and 400 cots - allowing the agency to be more agile in its response efforts, he said.

"We've become more mature about the area that we live in," said Gonzalez, a few days before the Black Forest fire erupted.

The Pikes Peak Community Foundation saved 40 percent of its donations - $100,000 - for flood mitigation and emergency response, said Eric Cefus, the organization's director of philanthropic services.

That money was donated to support Waldo Canyon fire relief, and the organization plans to honor those donations by focusing that money on the area affected by that blaze, Cefus said. That includes flash flood mitigation and support for the aftermath of flooding from the Waldo Canyon burn scar.

The fund established for the Black Forest fire will be more flexible - allowing foundation officials to more easily spend it for Black Forest relief, as well as future emergencies or disasters, he said.

"I'm afraid people are starting to see this (fires) a little bit more as the norm," Cefus said.

The outpouring of support for Waldo Canyon fire relief was immense.

Residents gave nearly 1.7 million pounds of food to the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, which received an additional $750,000 in donations.

A year later, those resources have dwindled.

The United Way allocated all its donations within six months.

A report by the nonprofit on how the money was spent is due in September.

All but a couple of thousand bottles of water remain of the food donated to Care and Share, said Lynne Telford, the nonprofit's president and chief executive. About 190 families still receive gift cards loaded with money to buy groceries - a $30,000-a-month program that's expected to end in September.

Donations also continued throughout the past year; the Pikes Peak Community Foundation received a $33,000 donation in late April for fire relief, Cefus said. But smaller contributions also trickled in - for instance, one boy drew pictures and sold them to his neighbors, raising $50 for fire relief, he added.

It was a spirit of giving that appeared one year later for the Black Forest fire.

"A truly incredible response," Cefus said Monday.


Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

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