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Gazette Premium Content WALDO CANYON FIRE: Lawmakers champion residents' cause

RYAN MAYE HANDY Updated: January 12, 2013 at 12:00 am

A growing number of Colorado legislators and politicians are heeding the cries of disgruntled Waldo Canyon fire survivors as a community association appeals for help battling insurance claims.

On Saturday, state Sen. Kent Lambert and Rep. Bob Gardner, Republicans from Colorado Springs, attended a meeting with residents to discuss an appeal to the state Department of Regulatory Agencies, known as DORA. Homeowners want the agency to intercede with several large insurance companies that they claim are refusing to pay for smoke and soot damage to their Mountain Shadows homes.

Lambert, who met with one member of the group last week, is focusing on contacting officials with DORA and in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office. Gardner volunteered to help the group start applying for nonprofit status, so it can start fundraising. El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark has also spoken to leaders of the group and offered help.

Formerly known as the Waldo Canyon Fire Victims Association, the group renamed themselves the association of Catastrophic Insurance Complaints in Colorado. At Saturday’s meeting, organizer Gerry Weitz passed around fliers with a mission statement and motto — “Making every insurance victim whole on the Front Range.”

The group started with impromptu meetings among neighbors last fall and spread by worth-of-mouth until nearly 50 families from the Mountain Shadows, Peregrine and Rockrimmon neighborhoods came together.

They are what member Dale Hendershot calls the “forgotten victims” of Waldo Canyon fire — those whose homes survived but, they say, sustained heavily smoke, ash and soot damage from the conflagration that destroyed at least 346 homes. Their individual stories and circumstances are different, but they say they’re united by an inability to get insurance companies to pay damage claims.

“I think that by being here you’ve identified yourselves as the folks who have been unable to crack the bureaucratic morass,” Gardner said. “I know this consumes your entire lives.”

The association’s past two Saturday meetings have been calls to action. On Jan. 5, it drafted a letter to Mayor Steve Bach, which prompted an immediate call from the mayor. On Saturday at the Colorado Springs Together office, off Centennial Boulevard, the homeowners outlined their objectives and established committees.

High on their list of priorities is extending insurance deadlines on repairing or replacing damaged property. Many in Mountain Shadows residents face a June 26 insurance deadline — a year after the fire hit the neighborhood.

Some homeowners say they won’t get full payment from their companies until they have rebuilt their homes or replaced damaged property, which they must do within a year.

To rally other elected officials to their cause, the association plans to pool photos of their damaged homes, as well as organize a tour of their neighborhoods for public officials.

Lambert and Gardner volunteered to track insurance legislation in the state House and Senate, while other homeowners are looking into their “Plan B” — seeking legal advice.

On Jan. 26, the homeowners plan to meet with DORA representatives in Colorado Springs to seek help. In the meantime many of them, like Kerri Olivier, who claims soot damage to her home, don’t know who to turn to.

“We just need some way to determine, is this a hazard in our homes still? Is this just a sticky mess or is it a hazard?” she asked.


Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261
Twitter @ryanmhandy

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