The Boulder Fires: Moving Forward as a Community
Before the flames were doused, the state, national, and international community responded with an outpouring of support to help fire victims in Boulder.
The wind-fed Marshall Fire erupted on the morning of Thursday, December 30. On Friday, December 31, knowing that the need would be immense and the recovery long, JEWISHcolorado launched an emergency fund. By January 4, more than $350,000 had been donated to the Boulder Fire Relief Fund. These dollars, said JEWISHcolorado President and CEO Rabbi Jay Strear, “will fund early gaps and help people take those first difficult and delicate steps forward.”
The Marshall Fire is now described as the most devastating wildfire in state history: 10% of the county’s residents were evacuated or displaced, nearly 1,000 families lost their homes, and two people lost their lives. This Wednesday, more than 20 service agencies, synagogues, rabbis, and community members took part in a needs-assessment call, facilitated by JEWISHcolorado. They described a community still reeling and stunned. Some residents have only recently been allowed to access their properties, determining damage, picking through scorched rubble, and searching for any salvageable belongings. They described short- and long-term housing shortages, and the need for long-term mental health assistance and spiritual support.
“Boulder knows how to react to tragedy,” said Jennifer Banyan Director of Jewish Family Service in Boulder, “and this in particular is going to be a long haul.” Social service agencies and synagogues began working immediately with fire victims to provide triage services, funded in part by JEWISHcolorado’s Boulder Fire Relief Fund. She continued, “Every day, I’m seeing exponential and unpredictable growth in people’s needs.” Already, 61 people have connected with their organization seeking immediate help, including many beyond the Jewish community.
Within hours of being contacted, Jewish Family Service was able to provide laptop computers and gift cards to families who had lost everything. JFS CEO Linda Foster said the organization has increased staffing at its Boulder location to include additional mental health resources, a disability services case manager, and more.
In the aftermath of the fires, the Boulder JCC opened its doors, offering a place to shower, a way for people to connect to services, to find housing, or get parenting resources. They are offering free meeting spaces for those impacted by the fires or working to support the community, and they have marshalled volunteers to help provide food to be distributed through Conscious Alliance.
As the crisis unfolded, the JCC began immediately tracking of hundreds of families connected to the organization, carefully cross referencing with other organizations and published lists of destroyed homes and businesses. Executive Director Jonathan Lev said the JCC knows of at least 45 families whose homes were wiped out; another five JCC staff members have homes in the highly impacted areas. “I am grateful for this community. It is what is holding me up right now,” he said.
The Boulder Community Foundation is working with the county to disburse direct financial assistance to those whose homes were damaged or destroyed. The Disaster Assistance Center at 1755 S. Public Road in Lafayette is also providing help.
No matter the organization they represent, community leaders expressed deep gratitude for the Boulder and Colorado Jewish communities, the “seamless collaboration,” and the outpouring of support during such a difficult time. JFS’s Banyan said, “As we talk with people… we are able to say, ‘What do you need today or in the next three days or the next three months and beyond?’ We will be here throughout this.”