Because words can pale in expressing the pain and grief we feel for the losses suffered in the calamitous Marshall Fire — and because others have already written so eloquently on these losses — I offer here a story of hope. It is hope born from the strength our community showed after the unspeakable tragedy of the King Soopers shooting, the COVID pandemic, in response to other previous fires, and in the floods of 2013. And we see it now in the strength that began showing even as the embers from this most recent tragedy still glowed.
I was on the phone Saturday after the fire with Boulder County Community Foundation CEO Tatiana Hernandez discussing steps to secure support for businesses and their workers impacted by the Marshall Fire. As we were concluding our conversation, she exclaimed, “This community amazes me!”
Tatiana talked of how unique she found the Boulder community in its collaboration and generosity, across institutional and jurisdictional boundaries, in responding and recovering from tragedy. She spoke poignantly of asking Chip from the Downtown Boulder Partnership if he could help her identify some volunteers to stuff envelopes, and how within moments, Chip and his wife, Abra, were themselves in Tatiana’s office stuffing envelopes.
Of course, first and foremost we owe a huge debt of gratitude for the coordinated efforts of our brave first responders in fighting the Marshall Fire amidst horrific conditions. But the outpouring of community support in the aftermath has been enormous, from envelope stuffing to financial contributions. Within hours after disaster struck, large institutions, like Elevations Credit Union and Pinnacol Assurance, were stepping up to the plate with donations, as were some of our favorite restaurants, shepherded by Big Red F, Blackbelly and McDevitt Taco Supply.
Exhibiting that same collaborative and generous spirit, the chambers from across Boulder and Broomfield Counties, collectively known as the Northwest Chamber Alliance, have been joining forces in response to this crisis. As I said in a recent BizWest story about our efforts, “This is a tragedy that impacts all businesses in our region, and we recognize that it’s important for the chambers to work collectively to address the needs of our businesses, economy and residents. We’ve seen the power of that collaborative work in the past, and we stand ready to bring that force to bear in this recovery effort.”
The Alliance has already implemented collective action, beginning with creation of a centralized information source — https://northwestchamberalliance.com/wildfire/ — for impacted businesses and their employees. We also created a survey instrument to catalogue specific business needs so we can build appropriate support infrastructure. And we will now begin to focus on identifying direct financial assistance.
In the words of newly appointed Superior Chamber executive director Deana Miller, “We will find our way through this together.”
I found another story in the Daily Camera tonight about the 50th anniversary of Historic Boulder that ironically captures a similar message. This is the organization of volunteers that is responsible for protecting now treasured buildings, like the Hotel Boulderado and the Highland School, from demolition. In the anniversary article, Board Member Dan Corson notes that their work to save buildings is about more than just historic preservation: “It’s saving a sense of place.”
All of us across Boulder County feel the loss of familiar landmarks and historic zones in Louisville and Superior that the Marshall Fire destroyed, let alone many hundreds of homes and businesses. That is a hit to our collective sense of place. But as Dan noted, place is more than structures. Place is defined by our culture and how we respond during trying times. Through every act of generosity you offer — whether as a volunteer, contributor or consoler — you are exhibiting the spirit that defines this place. The same can be said for the high degree of coordination amongst my regional chamber colleagues, non-profit assistance providers and emergency response officials.
The next few weeks and months will put that sense of place to the test. Viewing the Marshall Fire destruction reveals only the outline of what were once vibrant neighborhoods. It will take time before they again become havens for community BBQ’s and children playing. Still, as Louisville Chamber Executive Director Amber Theil noted, “Thank you all for the amazing sense of community you have given us. We will get through this, together and with time.”
Those sentiments, and the collaborative and generous efforts that stand behind them, represent the place I know we all feel is worth preserving. Let’s get to it, together!
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber.