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Applications for FEMA relief for Black Forest begin Friday

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Aug 02 2013 08:51:19 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 02 2013 09:54:15 PM CDT

El Paso County leaders expect to apply and receive disaster relief money this month.

BLACK FOREST, Colo. -

Federal and state officials spent Friday explaining how El Paso County leaders should apply for disaster funds to recover from the Black Forest Fire.

County leaders met for several hours at the county Department of Transportation office with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Colorado Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The funding process requires county leaders to choose repair or rebuilding projects, and for FEMA to decide which projects to approve and fund.  FEMA allocates funds to the state, and the state allocates it to the county. 

"The good thing is county leaders have had time to prepare for the application process, said Kevin Klein, director of the CDHSEM.  "That's different from the Waldo Canyon Fire, when a disaster was declared while the fire was still burning."

Klein said $12 million is an early estimate for how much in FEMA funds is needed for Black Forest's recovery.

"But that likely will increase as projects start coming in," he said.

Klein emphasized that FEMA disaster funds have very specific, limited uses.  He said funds can be applied only to roads, utilities and other public resources that were damaged between June 11 when the fire began and June 21 when the fire was extinguished.

Damage caused by flash flooding after the fire, Klein said, isn't covered under FEMA guidelines, even though the flooding resulted from the fire burning the ground and reducing its ability to hold water.

"We understand there's some frustration about that, and we struggle with it also," he said.  "But our responsibility isn't to make fire victims whole.  It's to help them get back on their feet."

Klein said a request for funds in a program applied to by Gov. John Hickenlooper that could have provided $5,000 payments to victims, was denied for unspecified reasons.

Judy von Ahlefeldt, a woman who lost her home in the fire, said the specific requirements of FEMA funding may disappoint victims who had little or no insurance and were hoping for more help. 

"I think a lot of people are still reeling from the impact of losing their homes," she said.  "But of course there's a lot of other landowners -- probably 2,500 others -- who still have their homes but they have property damage because of the fire."

However, Klein said part of FEMA's funding can help prevent future fires in Black Forest.

"Every dollar that we spend on the disaster, we get 15 percent back in addition to that, for future mitigation projects," he said.  "So, we know that it's better to prevent something than it is to pay for it later."

FEMA will end the application and allocation process Aug. 25.  Klein said FEMA and the state will continue to work with other agencies to find more funds.

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