Black Forest fire recovery groups getting down to business

June 26, 2013 Updated: June 26, 2013 at 7:20 pm

El Paso County's Long Range Recovery Committee got its marching orders and heard the first of what will be many concerns from survivors of the Black Forest fire at its initial meeting Wednesday.

The committee, headed by El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, will help Black Forest residents as they recover from a wildfire that destroyed more than 500 structures and burned more than 15,000 acres.

All of the meetings, including those scheduled by several subcommittees that were formed, will be open to the public, Glenn said.

"We want to be very open and transparent throughout this process," he said.

Subcommittees include Land Development Code and Code Enforcement; Clean-up and Recovery Process; Community Support; Citizen Preparedness and Lessons Learned; and Legislative Support.

The Clean-up and Recovery Process subcommittee will be the first to meet, at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Mountain Springs Church, said committee chair and County Commissioner Amy Lathen. Clean-up and recovery "is a priority," she said.

"What we are going to focus on very specifically is debris removal, permitting, tree mitigation and then wells and septic," she said.

The meeting is expected to last about two hours and will include representatives from the Colorado State Forest Service, The Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, El Paso County Public Health and El Paso County Environmental Services. They'll outline services and requirements and answer questions.

El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who will head the Community Support subcommittee, said the Pikes Peak Community Foundation will be the focal point for fund-raising. So far, the foundation has raised a little more than $100,000, she said.

More than 50 people attended Wednesday's meeting, and spoke out on several topics, including a request that the meetings be held in Black Forest instead of in downtown Colorado Springs. They also talked about a lack of telephone and internet service since the fire.

John Breeze, who has lived in Black Forest for seven years, characterized the response by provider CenturyLink as "glacial." In his neighborhood, many residents have lost land line service and are forced to use their cell phones, which have limited minutes, he said. As a result, their cell phones are running out of minutes.

When residents call CenturyLink customer service representatives, "they will be happy to charge them more money for a brand new two-year agreement and give them more access," he said.

Residents were originally notified that service wouldn't be completely restored until August - information that is incorrect, said CenturyLink spokesman Mark Bittle.

"Internally the date got transposed and we apologize for that inconvenience," he said. "Our technicians have been working around the clock since the fires started to protect facilities."

Most of the service in Black Forest will resume this week, he said. All of it will be restored by July 3. Black Forest residents who have problems with the toll-free number can call the local store at 633-5006, Bittle said.

"It's a shame there's frustration out there," Bittle said. "We certainly have done our best," with phone banks and internet access throughout the area during the fire.

After the meeting, Breeze was approached by Bart Banks, assistant director of emergency disaster services for The Salvation Army intermountain division. Banks gave him a phone number - 719-635-1287 - to give to residents who run short on cell phone minutes. The organization will help Black Forest residents who have problems paying utility bills, Banks said.

"It's working," Breeze said. "We're coming together."

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