Photo: A peaceful night by the campfire in May 2020. Photos by Jeremy D Krones
I’ve told the story a hundred times.
It starts with me saying: “We had 15 minutes,” and ends with my audience asking, “What can we do?”
My neighbors and I had 15 minutes on Wednesday, October 21, to prepare for evacuation as the East Troublesome fire flooded its way across Grand County, Colorado, destroying everything in its rapid and sporadic path.
I have the call log: at 6:42pm I received an automated reverse-911 call informing me my neighborhood, across US-34 from the Town of Grand Lake, was under a pre-evacuation order. That means we should be ready to hit the road, but we did not have to leave quite yet. Usually there is some down time between pre-evacuation and evacuation orders.
Not this time. Exactly 15 minutes later, at 6:57, the same automated voice informed me to get out, now. Ultimately my cabin was destroyed, but my animals and I are safe.
I can tell the full tale of evacuation in another letter, but for now focus on answering the question that ends the story:
“What can we do?”
We have donations. Starting the day after the Grand Lake evacuations, the various nonprofits and municipal offices coordinating on the fire received clothes, toiletries, foods, toys, pet supplies, books, and so much more for those of us displaced by the fire; the donations poured from the Front Range, the Western Slope, and the Eastern Plains. We have access to federal, state, local, and independent grants. Other community support systems sprung up overnight, offering pet boarding and mental health services and free coffee for evacuees and first responders.
Working in the nonprofit world, I know the impact of donations. I understand how fundraising works, what the psychology is behind giving money or clothes in a time of need. But I also understand that such donations only go so far. They are given immediately and therefore, in general, only address immediate needs.
It is heart-warming and promising to see the swell of support come to help those of us in need in such a divided time. Elected officials and citizen leaders are rallying their constituents and supporters to lend a hand, to share their collective wealth. But just as quickly as those calls for aid are answered, they are forgotten.
We have a hard time looking far into the future and planning for those next steps, but experience teaches everything. I was 11 when 9/11 happened, 15 for Hurricane Katrina, and 18 during the 2008 Financial Crisis. I have come to understand there is an accepted end of the road we take during these disastrous events, especially as it pertains to physically rebuilding the community.
However, it does not take much to extend that road a little bit farther, for us in Grand County and for everyone affected by disasters elsewhere.
In the aftermath of the East Troublesome Fire, we need to extend it about eight months. We need to look forward, to after the snow melts and my neighbors and I can “ground truth” (to take a phrase from the conservation world) what happened and what needs to happen, and begin to rebuild.
We can spend the winter months – long and dark as they are – planning and preparing to begin anew. When we do break ground, we will not need new clothes or canned vegetables: we will need your help to physically rebuild the community. Insurance and governmental grants help, but they do not provide community.
Contractors and building supplies were already in short supply and high demand before the fires, and this necessary rebuild will only exacerbate the issue. We will need housing for the workers, and an influx of building materials for concrete slabs and wood frames and metal roofs. We will need inspectors and assessors and code enforcers to ensure the houses being built are legitimate and strong. We will need commitments from local builders to help the displaced residents in whatever ways they can.
Contact your elected officials and citizen leaders and encourage them to lead by example in this time of need. They can not only help with zoning and permitting, but they can also get their hands dirty alongside the rest of us. Whether you can contribute with a hammer and nails or a batch of cookies on a Sunday morning in July, your help will be needed, welcomed, and accepted.
Your support will not just be used to help the army of labor – those cookies will represent the community coming together and staying together through thick and thin. Let us maintain the outpouring of support far into the future, for us in Grand County and for everyone whose lives cannot be restored immediately, but over time with a strong community.
See you in eight months.
JD Krones is the executive director of Colorado Headwaters Land Trust in Granby and a resident of Grand Lake, although he now lives elsewhere in Grand County due to the East Troublesome Fire.