Colorado

Nov 22, 2013 10:20 PM by Tony Spehar - tspehar@koaa.com

Frigid temperatures creating more challenges for Black Forest fire survivors

Frigid temperatures and a blanket of snow brought on by the first big winter storm of the season which struck this week have brought new challenges for those who lost everything in the Black Forest Fire.

Ray Rozak, who lost his home 13000-block of Holmes Road in the first days of the fire, is living with his wife and dogs in a camper on their property.

"We lost the house, the barn, it was a steel barn, it looks like a roller coaster right now, all the metal twisted from the heat and melted and burned," he described. "They said it came through at 2700-degrees."

All across the over 14,000-acres burn scar, where flames tore through homes and heated the air to thousands of degrees in June, many have still not even begun to rebuild and are planning to endure winter living in campers, trailers and even tents.

"We're waiting for January," Rozak explained. "January usually has two-weeks of very cold, it can go down to 20-below-zero out here."

On Thursday night the snow and freezing temperatures drove dozens to take shelter at the building housing Crosses for Losses, a non-profit charity founded to help fire survivors, which opened as a shelter.

"Even though it's been a few months since the fire and the last flood, now we've got cold weather so we still re-live the fire every single day," described Michelle Andree, who also lost her home to the fire.

Andree was one of those who spent the night at Crosses for Losses. She had been staying in an RV, but the heater malfunctioned leaving the temperature inside at a chilly 30-degrees. She's now volunteering at Crosses for Losses.

"This is just the beginning and so the people that are re-living the fire and the flooding are just going to keep continuing to do that," she explained. "So by the grace of God we can keep this store open for people as long as they need it."

Crosses for Losses founder Amanda Davis had been trying to stockpile winter supplies in anticipation of the increased demand, but said her organization is beginning to become overwhelmed.

"Chaos, absolute chaos, completely exhausted," she said of the work on Thursday night and Friday. "All of our volunteers going to a lot of different campers last night, checking on the folks, making sure that they weren't freezing."

Of course, many fire survivors are interested in the recent controversy over the cause of the Black Forest Fire. On Wednesday night Black Forest Fire Protection District Chief Bob Harvey stated the fire had been started intentionally. Not long after El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, whose office is heading the investigation into the fire and its cause, fired off a scathing letter saying there was no evidence to support the chief's claim and criticizing Harvey's handling of the fire in the first crucial hours.

"They know more that we do and if they want to publicize something I'd like to know and so would 500 other homeowners, they would like to know what happened, we didn't cause this," Ray Rozak said of the controversy while surveying his property. "It's a shame we have to endure the rest of our lives with this."

While many would like answers, for the immediate future survival and helping each other is more important.

"I'm very fortunate that I'm not freezing to death because they're always here and I can always count on them," Michelle Andree said of the support from the community and Crosses for Losses.

Crosses for Losses is in need of warm working gloves, thermal underwear, hand and foot warmers, wool socks, coveralls and sleeping cots for when the organization has to act as a shelter again. Monetary donations are also being welcomed and can be made at http://www.crossesforlosses.org/

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