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One Year After High Park Fire, Few Have Started Rebuilding

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jesica Geffre
Wikimedia Commons

The High Park Firestarted almost one year ago on Saturday, June 9, 2012. The 87,284 acre blaze consumed 259 homes northwest of Fort Collins before it was contained almost a month later.

One question for people who have lost property following any disaster is whether or not to rebuild. Currently just 18 percent of High Park Fire victims have started the rebuilding process, and only nine homes have been completed.

"What we’re finding out is that the process is a long one," says Suzanne Bassinger, Recovery Manager for Larimer County. "The fire survivors - people who’ve lost their homes - have to go through the process of mentally, emotionally and financially regrouping; and deciding what do they want to do, what can they do, financially?"

Larimer County created the recovery manager position in the weeks following the High Park Fire, based partly on a similar position Boulder County created after the Fourmile Canyon Fire. Bassinger stepped into the role in September to act as a contact point for homeowners dealing with county regulations and insurance companies – and, sometimes, to just be there to listen to people’s stories.

Bassinger says the county will need volunteer help in the coming months to help with erosion control and restoration. Find events and opportunities here.

Interview highlights

On what the job entails…

"There’s two main focuses, I think. It’s both the fire survivors and helping them in whatever way they need -- and we’ve never done this before, so we didn’t know what they needed. And the other is working with the other entities who are also doing mitigation activities. That’s the cities of Fort Collins, Greeley… the water suppliers; then there’s the forest service involved, the Colorado State Forest Service, the department of transportation.

The job description is what you make it, really. It’s identifying needs, and then addressing those needs."

On where rebuilding efforts are, 12 months later...

"As of the end of April, we had about 20 percent [who have started the rebuilding process]. About 40-50 building permits have been issued. Only nine of those are certificates of occupancy, where they’re finished and moved. I've heard from Boulder that typical rebuild is less than 50 percent, a few years out. I say 'typical,' but nothing’s typical. This was one of the largest fires. We don’t have a roadmap."

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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