Nearly three months after a devastating fire destroyed 486 homes and 5,000 acres of trees, Black Forest Together is stepping up its efforts to help all residents any way it can.
“We’re here to help people in need or who don’t have insurance at all,” said Eddie Bracken, chairman of the board of directors of the citizen group. “We want to help recover, rebuild and restore the sense of community that was affected by this fire.”
Bracken and his group have moved swiftly in their efforts.
“Eight or nine of us got together within days after the fire broke out and figured out a plan,” said Bracken, whose home on Milam Road was spared during the fire. “We don’t have a bunch of paid people. We’re all volunteers.
“This is not a short-term project. The recovery effort will go on for a long time.”
In early August, Bracken and his group’s board of five directors set up a Community Resource Center at Black Forest Fire Station One, located on Teachout Road in the Forest. Operating hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The telephone number is 719-495-2445. You can also check out the web site at www.blackforesttogether.org.
The resource center offers a sort of one-stop shopping. It is modeled after Colorado Springs Together, the group that was formed after the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire that destroyed 347 homes in the Mountain Shadows part of the city.
The board meets every other week at La Foret in the Forest. Tonight at 6:30, there will be a general public meeting at the fire station.
Black Forest Together is working with various local, county and state government agencies, as well as private and public entities. Among them are the El Paso County, La Foret, AspenPointe, Salvation Army, Tri-Lakes Care and Share, Catholic Charities, the Housing and Building Association, area churches, and the El Paso County Health Department.
Black Forest Together became incorporated with the State of Colorado early in its efforts. The group has applied for 501c3 status.
“That’s pending,” Bracken said. “We’ve been told we’re on an accelerated process for disaster relief organizations.”
Last week, the organization received its first big financial boost; a grant from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation for $15,000.
“That will be used to get us up and running,” Bracken said.
Bracken added that the U.S. Small Business Administration has been given approval to write loans up to 30 years at 1.8 percent to residents who lost their homes because of the fire. Black Forest Together has established a committee to evaluate requests for funding.
Bracken’s group is also working on plans for long-term forest midigation, clearing the forest of thousands of dead trees, and the repair septic systems and wells that were damaged by the fire.