More than 170 people displaced by the destructive Marshall fire remained in emergency shelters on Thursday, as officials and Good Samaritans scrambled to find more permanent housing for residents of up to 1,000 burned houses .
Authorities have urged residents to contact their insurance companies for help covering personal expenses like food and temporary accommodation, while a few hotels have slashed prices and the Coloradans have filled social media with information. offers to welcome the evacuees.
Emergency housing efforts have been complicated by the pandemic. A safe haven has been set aside for coronavirus-positive patients, and supply chain issues brought on by the global health crisis could slow reconstruction efforts as parts of Colorado are already plagued by housing shortages and crisis. soaring costs.
“The rental market was already tight initially before this fire,” said Michael Ingoldby, a Superior resident who lost his home in the fire. “If thousands of houses burn down, it will only tighten up. “
A State Restoration Task Force led by the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division began meeting on Friday and will prioritize emergency housing, division spokeswoman Micki Trost said.
Gov. Jared Polis also said he had spoken with President Joe Biden and a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator about medium-term housing support for residents who wish to care for their children in residential areas. local schools or return to a certain normality before rebuilding the destroyed houses.
“We will work hard with families and small businesses to rebuild our precious communities, homes and shrines for people,” Polis said Friday at a press conference.
Biden verbally endorsed an expedited declaration of major disaster to help with the reconstruction.
FEMA spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough said they were waiting for the president to formally sign the statement outlining what aid was approved.
More than 500 homes were consumed by the 6,000-acre blaze that started Thursday, fueled by wind gusts of up to 110 miles per hour. If those numbers hold up, it will be the most destructive wildfire in state history in terms of the number of homes burned.
Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association, said it was too early to estimate insurance damage from the blaze, but expected it to be the costliest in history. state in terms of insurance claims.
“I don’t even feel like I’m taking any risks on this,” she said, calling the fire a “catastrophic and unprecedented event”.
The tight housing market “can affect the ability of people to find housing, especially if they need it in the longer term,” she said.
She expected the insurance losses to be high as the fire struck a densely populated urban area.
“It’s not the size of the fire for insurance. This is where the fire is occurring, the number of houses in the area, the cost of repairing and rebuilding those houses, ”she said.
Colorado recently opened a transitional accommodation site for Afghan refugees, but Trost said there was no similar long-term accommodation provided for fire victims because they have different needs. Residents typically stay with family or friends for about a week or two after a fire before finding alternative accommodation while long-term repairs are made, she said.
The state hopes to help people without home or tenant insurance and local businesses have offered hotel rooms, she said.
“The first option is to make sure that everyone who is insured is connected and using their insurance benefits, because it is the most efficient and the fastest way to recover,” she said.
Temporary living expenses for food and shelter – money to “get you out of the shelter, to help you out in the short term” – is covered by standard home and tenant insurance policies, Walker said, with the insurance association. Mandatory evacuations trigger insurance coverage, she said.
She expected the insurance coverage to be high as the affected neighborhoods were not second homes in mountainous areas, but mainly primary residences where people have mortgages and insurance is required.
Andrea Carlson of the Colorado and Wyoming Red Cross said the organization operated a shelter at the YMCA of Northern Colorado and did not offer payment for hotel rooms because the shelters were open.
The organization initially focuses on the safety and warmth of people during an emergency response, she said. They then provide cleaning kits and other supplies to help people get back to their homes, and potentially financial assistance to those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed.
“Right now it’s about making sure people are safe, people are fed and people aren’t in the snow in cold weather because it all starts,” she said.
The Red Cross is still providing a long-term response to the Estes Park fires in 2020, she said.
“In fact, I can do something to help”
Meanwhile, residents have offered their help to fire victims on social media and the Airbnb short-term rental platform. The company has a program through which hosts can provide free emergency accommodation to those in need.
“I happen to have vacant accommodation for the next week and a half so I thought… that there is actually something I can do to help people,” said Julia Pamcoe, 39. , who donated a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Boulder to fire victims at no cost.
Pamcoe, who manages properties on Airbnb, was lucky her home and most of her friends’ homes were unharmed, though a tree she loved was blown down on a neighbor’s house. .
Stacy Howard, a Montessori school teacher, offered a room in her family’s four-bedroom house on Facebook after realizing that her property and her family were fine, but their “community (was) shattered. “.
The space is nothing fancy, but enough to keep someone warm, she said.
“It seemed like the easiest, fastest way to post something to feel useful,” she said. “I know if we were in this position that would be the first thing I would worry about… Where are you going to take your kids?” Where are you going to sleep
Howard and his family were evacuated to his mother’s house in Loveland yesterday and returned by car today, staying away from the most damaged neighborhoods to avoid scaring Howard’s elementary-age children.
She was not surprised by the influx of support and offers of help.
“There are a lot of things social media doesn’t do well, but it’s definitely one of them that it does well,” she said.
The DoubleTree hotel in Westminster has been full since 6 p.m. Thursday, after fire evacuees started arriving at 1 p.m., chief executive Angie Harper said. Of 186 rooms, about 120 are now occupied by evacuees, she said, and the hotel has lowered its rate per night from $ 130 to $ 79 for fire victims. They also waive fees for pets.
Last year, the hotel accommodated some 500 people in the Eastern Fire with “all animals known to man,” including lizards, goats and chickens, she said. declared.
“Unfortunately, we have known fire before, but this one is quite different. It happened so fast, ”she said.
In Boulder, the historic Hotel Boulderado was also booked, but not by those evacuated by firefighters.
“We would normally be full tonight because of New Years Eve,” said Rachel Stanford, head of the rooms division.
Colorado Sun editor-in-chief Jesse Paul contributed to this report.