Giving Thought: 2020 wildfire season is upon us and we’re ready

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

Me: I really hope we can make it through the summer without another crisis.

2020: Hold my beer …

Living in the arid West, we know that wildfires are a threat during the summer and hope that we can make it through without the landscape going up in flames. This year, in particular, as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis, adding a natural disaster to the mix would just be icing on the cake.

Enter the Grizzly Creek and Pine Gulch fires. These fires are ravaging the landscape, threatening homes, disrupting commerce, and filling the valley with smoke and ash.

One of four active wildfires in Colorado this year, the Grizzly Creek Fire has burned more than 28,000 acres and has closed the Glenwood Canyon I-70 corridor, disrupting the flow of people and goods across the state. One can’t be completely surprised by the fire; it’s been a hot, dry summer with no monsoons in sight. But one is taken aback by the speed and ferocity at which it is burning in such rugged terrain.

Our neighbors to the west have been dealing with the Pine Gulch Fire for a few weeks now, which, at 125,000-plus acres, continues to push smoke into the valley and draw on already-strained firefighting resources. In all, more than 175,000 acres are burning in Colorado as of Wednesday afternoon.

Here in the Aspen to Parachute region, we’ve been fortunate: no injuries or loss of life, only three structures damaged, and the much-loved Hanging Lake area seems to have escaped destruction. However, hundreds of people have been evacuated and hundreds more remain on high alert. As the helicopters and airplanes continue to drop water and retardant to douse the flames and more firefighters join the efforts to battle the blazes, we must remember that this is not over. With no relief in sight weather-wise, the fires will most likely continue to grow, increasing the danger to people and property.

Aspen Community Foundation (ACF) has been committed to serving the Aspen to Parachute region since 1980. We were called to action to help our region recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and are called to action now to help those on the front lines and those impacted by these wildfires. ACF has activated its Fire Fund to provide a vehicle for donors to support immediate and long-term needs of disaster victims, impacted communities, and responding agencies.

In a strange way, responding to a natural disaster during the COVID-19 crisis is easier. For the past several months, ACF has been meeting weekly with nonprofit, school and government partners to assess needs, rally resources, and provide assistance to individuals and families impacted by the pandemic. Many of these leaders are well positioned to respond to the wildfires and we can use this strong partnership to identify the most vulnerable families in the evacuation and pre-evacuation zones, assess their needs, and connect them to resources.

As these wildfires continue to burn, ACF will tap into these organizations and agencies to coordinate response efforts in a holistic way: providing material goods, mental health services, and other resources that make affected families whole again. Humanitarian efforts require the precision and planning that parallels the firefighters’ logistics.

We often speak of ACF’s strategy of Collective Impact in addressing the issues that affect youth and families in the greater Roaring Fork Valley. This is simply the belief that complex issues cannot be solved by one individual organization but can be addressed by a collective joining of organizations working together to achieve a common goal. These recent disasters have shown that this strategy is essential to mobilizing solutions in a crisis.

As the days and weeks go by, more needs related to the wildfires will be identified. ACF is well equipped to handle the philanthropic support that will be required to help our community recover. Since Hurricane Katrina, we’ve provided funding for disaster relief and recovery. And, with Lake Christine, we learned what it meant to be involved on the ground, helping our own community recover from disaster. If you’re inclined to help during these uncertain times, please consider contributing to ACF’s Fire Fund.

Finally, a huge thank-you to all the firefighters and first responders who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our homes and keep us safe.

To learn more about ACF’s Fire Fund, visit http://www.aspencommunity​

Tamara Tormohlen is the executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.