LAFAYETTE, Colo. (CN) — Thousands of Coloradans who fled their homes in the wake of two wildfires on New Year's weekend are returning to inspect the damage.
The 6,000-acre Marshall Fire sparked on Dec. 30 and spread quickly across drought-drained land in 100-mph winds, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and businesses. No structures burned in the second fire, dubbed the Middle Fork Fire.
“I lost my home,” said Patti Hoag of Boulder. Hoag had lived there for 15 years, watching her four kids grow into adults.
“The community in Boulder has been unbelievable. My friends have wrapped their arms around me and are not letting me fall,” Hoag said. “My friends, they're like, ‘Let's call this a scrap and remodel, you can build your dream home.'”
As she began applying for federal aid and filing an insurance claim at the Disaster Assistance Center in Lafayette, Hoag said she hopes to rebuild in the same spot where she made many friends and memories over the years.
As of Tuesday, the fire was declared 100% contained. Road closures continue to lift as power and natural gas services are restored across the disaster area spanning from Boulder to Superior and as far east as Louisville.
President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration on Jan. 1, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide aid. During their first three days operating the Disaster Assistance Center, FEMA helped more than 240 people apply for aid.
“I recommend anybody who's been affected by the disaster to come and register with FEMA to start the process for recovery,” said James Taylor, a FEMA emergency management specialist based in Denver. “If insurance is covering something, we can't cover that but maybe we can cover the thing the insurance didn't cover.”
Across the hall from the pop-up FEMA office, local governments, nonprofits and utility companies met with disaster victims. Home insurers set up tents in the parking lot.
Through biting wind and freezing temperatures, volunteers hauled in carts of colorful blankets and pallets of fresh fruit to hand out. Other community members donated packaged food, water, baby formula, diapers and pet supplies. The Colorado Baptist Disaster Relief handed out sifters to help victims look through ash for small valuables.
“It's gonna take years for people to get back on their feet,” said Superior Mayor Clint Folsom. “Some people might move on in weeks or months, but I think in terms of the rebuilding process, it could take years because it was already an incredibly tight real estate and construction market, and we've just added maybe 1,000 more projects onto that list.”
As road closures lift, locals return to inspect their homes and businesses, airing out the smell of smoke and sweeping up ash. While officials have not confirmed any deaths from the fire, two people remain missing.
Local law enforcement is working with federal investigators to determine the cause of the fire.
“I wasn’t even sure the store would be here,” said Paul Hoerster, a sales rep at Hi-Tech Appliance in Louisville. Aside from a lingering smell of smoke, the wildfire spared the business. Just across the street, a silhouette of char is all that remains of a row of restaurants.
“Now we have customer orders ready in the warehouse, but their houses aren’t there anymore,” Hoerster said. “And I got people wanting me to get new stuff ordered, like the world just keeps going on.”
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