Aspen Community Foundation’s special Fire Fund addresses human impacts of this summer’s wildfires

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire billows behind the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool in Glenwood Canyon on August 13.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

The environmental impacts of the Grizzly Creek and Pine Gulch fires which, combined, have burned more than 170,000 acres in Garfield County, will be visible on the landscape for many years to come.

The human impacts can be harder to see, but can linger just as long.

Enter the Aspen Community Foundation’s (ACF) Fire Fund, which has a specific purpose of addressing the immediate and long-term human and community impacts.

The ACF Fire Fund is one branch of a broader, three-tiered fundraising effort to help prepare for the fire area restoration efforts and community rebuilding in the aftermath of the Grizzly Creek Fire in particular.

While funds donated via ACF can also go to support environmental restoration, they first go to help any individuals, families and small business owners who are suffering from the impacts of the fire, explained Tamara Tormohlen, Executive Director for ACF.

Any time there’s a natural disaster, whether locally or globally, ACF activates its Community to Community Fund to give donors a vehicle to support relief efforts, Tormohlen said.

“One of our roles is disaster philanthropy,” she said. “It helps people to be generous and give if they want to help after a natural disaster of any sort.”

Monetary donations have also become more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, since relief agencies can’t accept food, clothing or other types of goods, Tormohlen also noted.

Unlike the needs that arose during and after the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt in the summer of 2018, the human impacts from the Grizzly and Pine Gulch fires might be harder to quantify, she said.

The Lake Christine Fire destroyed three homes and damaged several others, and the direct emotional and mental stress was evident for months after the fire was finally out.

Disaster philanthropy follows four phases — preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery, Tormohlen explained.

“Depending on the disaster or the incident, agencies are going to respond in different ways,” she said. “This particular incident has not resulted in a lot of human needs, in the way Lake Christine did.”

Just exactly what those needs might be related to the Grizzly Creek Fire, which had broader community impacts, especially in Glenwood Springs, are being closely monitored by ACF’s government and nonprofit agency partners, she said.

The Pine Gulch Fire, by further contrast, because of its remote location, didn’t have the community impacts but did adversely affect several rural residents and ranchers north of DeBeque who had to be evacuated.

During the Lake Christine Fire, the immediate need was more around food and basic needs assistance for the families who were evacuated or lost belongings.

“A lot of people, even they didn’t lose their house, had to replenish food,” Tormohlen said, referring to lengthy power outages when the fire burned right up to the El Jebel Mobile Home Park, and smoke damage that also was prevalent.

A longer-term need had to do with mental health resources, she said.

“The mental health piece is a big one, and is probably something we’re going to see with (the Grizzly Creek Fire),” she said, also adding the fire’s economic impact to the equation.

Businesses in the Glenwood Springs area were already hurting from the impacts of the COVID-19 public health restrictions that have been in place this year, even before the fire impacts hit.

The ACF’s Lake Christine Fire Fund ultimately raised about $300,000, while this year’s Fire Fund now stands at about $1,000, Tormohlen said, noting that the human and community needs are just now being identified.

“We typically look at the gaps not being filled by government, and try to help fill those gaps,” she said.