Rebuilding After the Marshall Fire: Finding Healing in Helping
December 30, 2021. It is a date that many of us will never forget. On that day, the Marshall Fire swept through the City of Louisville, the Town of Superior, and unincorporated Boulder County, destroying and damaging more than 1,000 homes and over 30 commercial structures. It was Colorado’s most destructive wildfire ever in terms of property loss.
In the immediate aftermath, Mental Health Partners launched an initiative to provide counseling services, crisis support, and resource navigation through its Colorado Spirit Crisis Counseling Program (CCP).
Katie Reynolds, an Outreach Worker on MHP’s CCP team, recently shared her own harrowing story and explained why she is committed to helping Marshall Fire survivors get connected to resources, support, and care – a mission that hits very close to her home and her heart.
Surviving the fire
On that fateful day in December, Katie was caught up in the panic, chaos, and confusion while on her way to have lunch with a friend in Louisville. She stood in shock on the side of South Boulder Road in bumper-to-bumper traffic watching as the Spanish Hills neighborhood went up in flames, people fleeing their homes on foot as smoke plumes and ash filled the sky.
As she watched not knowing what to do, she realized that the neighborhood she was seeing enveloped by fire in the distance included her family home in the Coal Creek Ranch subdivision, which was one of the most devastated areas by the fire.
What’s more, Katie received news that where she currently lived in West Arvada outside Superior, was in the fire’s path next.
“In those hours, I truly felt like my entire identity, my past, and everything I loved was burning away in the giant firestorm as a stook watching helplessly.”
As the hours went by, thankfully the wind died down and the fires dampened. Katie realized she wouldn’t have to evacuate her own house, so she turned her attention to her childhood home.
“I made a decision to find whatever way I could around barriers and through the neighborhoods I grew up in that were now in rubble, and make it home to my dog and 2 cats and family heirlooms.”
The houses on both sides of her mom’s home were burned down to the foundation, as were the rest of the homes on that street.
“By some miracle or misfortune, my mom’s house was damaged but left standing.”
Growth after trauma
In the days and weeks that followed, Katie began addressing her own mental health after experiencing such a traumatic event. However, she quickly discovered that she also wanted to help those who had been less fortunate.
The community she called home, the friends and teachers she loved, the memories she held dear, the parks she played in as a kid – all were suffering and in need.
“To me, it wasn’t ever a decision as much as it was an essential need the help the community that made me the person I am today. Helping my hometown and my community heal was the best way to channel my energy and find my own healing.”
Challenges remain for survivors
As we approach the 1-year mark since the Marshall Fire, it’s important to recognize that Marshall Fire survivors and the affected communities around Superior, Louisville, and unincorporated Boulder County have only just begun a long and difficult healing journey.
By far one of the biggest challenges for survivors is dealing with insurance companies.
“The process of financial, emotional, and familial recovery for these survivors is so much harder than anyone can imagine unless they’re experiencing it first-hand.”
Another challenge is transparency.
In the last year, there have been many people, organizations, companies, and third parties that have attempted to provide relief or help in various ways. However, these services don’t always make it to those who need them most. For individuals and families most impacted, these unfulfilled promises can add to an already overwhelming physical and emotional burden.
“Offered help is great, but the good intent means nothing and will cause more harm if the promise or idea doesn’t come to fruition. The flip side of that coin is realizing that even the little ways we help others can equate to pushing someone the last foot up that 14er.”
Of course, recovering from a disaster such as the Marshall Fire takes time, and everyone’s healing journey looks different. Some survivors have put their emotional recovery on the back burner for the last year but are now seeing walls go up on their new homes, while others have been primarily addressing their emotional trauma and are only now beginning the long and complicated process of rebuilding or moving on.
And recovery isn’t always linear either. As Colorado’s wildfire threat grows each year, the risk of being re-traumatized by new dangers, warnings, and evacuations increases.
“I can confidently say, in part because of my own personal experience, that the idea and the warning signs of future wildfires is a constant trigger for all of us.”
Healing a community
To heal an entire community, it takes a community working together to rebuild – which is why Mental Health Partners works with many different agencies, groups, and organizations to identify community needs and determine the best way to provide essential support.
The Outreach team partners with a number of local organizations to serve survivors – including A Precious Child, Marshall ROC and the Marshall ROC Recovery Center, Community Food Share, Louisville Public Library, Louisville Rec and Senior Center, Superior Rising, Moxie Bread Co., Boulder Humane Society, and the Superior Community Center.
While rebuilding from this devastating fire and recovering from trauma has only begun, the dedicated efforts of Katie and the rest of the Outreach team are already paying off.
“There are so many people who I’ve personally spoken to that feel significant relief from simply knowing there is a team dedicated to helping them access resourced and providing mental health support to process their own Marshall Fire experience if it’s ever needed.”
She went on to say:
“But it’s also important to remember that even people who don’t reach out for support still benefit in many ways in knowing there is an open door if and when they decide to open it.”
In this role, Katie feels fortunate to see daily reminders of how powerful and resilient people are as her community rises from the ashes of the Marshall Fire.
“Growing up here, I knew there was something special about the people that call the Front Range home and while you never hope that an event happens to test a community’s strength, I’m proud to see first-hand that my heart, my home, my community are truly incredible and show up for each other in ways words cannot describe.”
All of us at Mental Health Partners are so grateful to Katie and the entire CCP team for their passion and commitment to serving individuals, families, and communities impacted by the Marshall Fire.
If your or someone you know were affected by a Colorado wildfire and need support, we invite you to visit our support page (https://www.mhpcolorado.org/cowildfiresupport/), call the Outreach Warm Line at (303) 545-0852, or email us CommunityOutreach@mhpcolorado.org.
The Colorado Spirit Crisis Counseling Program (CCP) is a grant-funded program of Mental Health Partners (MHP) that supports people impacted by the Marshall Fire. While this program will end in 2022, we understand that healing and recovery can take time. To get connected to resources before January 1, 2023, contact the CCP warmline at 303-545-0852 or CommunityOutreach@mhpcolordo.org. After this date, you can reach out to Marshall ROC Fire Recovery Center at 303-446-7782 or visit https://bouldercountynavigatingdisaster.gov/.