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City officials see neighborhood's rebirth after fire

By: RYAN MAYE HANDY
March 13, 2013
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photo - Jeff Tienken with the Coalition of the Uper South Platte works to fell hazard trees Friday Friday, February 22, 2013 at Wolfe Ranch in Colorado Springs, Colo. The ranch and nearby Flying W Ranch were heavily damaged in last summer's Waldo Canyon Wildfire. Tienken supervises a team of Americorps workers helping out with wildfire recovery efforts on the ranch. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE
Jeff Tienken with the Coalition of the Uper South Platte works to fell hazard trees Friday Friday, February 22, 2013 at Wolfe Ranch in Colorado Springs, Colo. The ranch and nearby Flying W Ranch were heavily damaged in last summer's Waldo Canyon Wildfire. Tienken supervises a team of Americorps workers helping out with wildfire recovery efforts on the ranch. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE 

In some ways, the fire-ravaged Mountain Shadows neighborhood is a graveyard of memories, of lost homes and of neighbors who moved away.

But for resident Allan Creely, it is mostly a place of rebirth.

“Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother,” Creely told a group of Colorado Springs officials who toured the neighborhood Wednesday. “But this is like giving birth.”

Creely’s townhome neighborhood, Harbor Pines, near the entrance of Flying W Ranch, was devastated in a dramatic burst of heat during the Waldo Canyon fire, which burned more than 18,000 acres and destroyed at least 346 homes. Nearly nine months ago, superheated air blew out of the burning Flying W Canyon and broke the windows of many of the 14 homes in the community, and tossed embers “bigger than Mayor (Steve) Bach,” through into the homes, Creely said. Only two homes survived the conflagration — but still sustained several thousand dollars of damage. Creely’s home was not one of them.

Creely and most of his neighbors decided to recreate Harbor Pines — and their resilient spirit was on display Wednesday for a busload of Colorado Springs officials on a tour of the neighborhood organized by the non-profit recovery group Colorado Springs Together.

Creely was among a handful of residents invited to speak to Mayor Steve Bach, Bret Waters, director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, and Jerry Forte, head of Colorado Springs Utilities, among others. Colorado Springs Together President Bob Cutter took the group on a guided tour of the rebuilding efforts in Mountain Shadows, which made the requisite stops at Courtney Drive and Parkside, two neighborhoods nearly obliterated by the Waldo Canyon fire.

By the end of the year, Cutter expects that at least 80 percent of Mountain Shadows residents will be rebuilding in area, adding to the din of construction that many neighbors say they find uplifting.

But the homes — of concrete and stucco, and some with fire resistant lumber — tell only part of the tale.

“It’s what you cannot see that’s also important,” Cutter stressed.

Since the fire, community organizations, support groups and committees have joined the Waldo Canyon fire recovery effort. Deb Zawacky, a Parkside resident who also spoke during the tour, is a member of a women’s support group that has for months met at the Colorado Springs Together office. The new president of the Mountain Shadows Community Association, Eddie Hurt, recently launched a similar men’s group, which meets for beers once a month.

Nora Gleditch, whose home on Lanagan Street survived the fire, chairs the Waldo Canyon Fire Memorial Committee and is helping plan a commemorative event on June 26. More than 100 other groups host meetings at the Colorado Springs Together office off Centennial Boulevard, Cutter said.

There are success stories, but it’s not without headaches. Many residents remain locked in battle with insurance companies over damage claims.

Cutter expects that 20 percent of the nearly 4,000 Mountain Shadows residents won’t return to the neighborhood.

And for every few rebuilt homes or clean plots, there is a driveway that leads nowhere and a mailbox that gets no mail.

Cutter recently announced at a Colorado Springs City Council meeting his intention to close down the Colorado Springs Together center in July, when the group’s lease on their building expires.

Hurt and others on the tour told Mayor Bach that they’d like the center to stay open at least until the end of the year. Bach said that he will look into getting money to extend the lease.

“I’m really happy to see progress in Mountain Shadows,” Bach said after the tour. “We need to Colorado Springs Together alive for the next event.”

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

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