Tatiana Hernandez, CEO of the Community Foundation Boulder County, updating the public on how money from the Boulder County Wildfire Fund will be spent during Monday night's presentation at the Superior Business Center. Credit: Melissa Bailey

Ninety days after the Marshall Fire reduced more than 1,000 homes to ash and upended lives, the Community Foundation Boulder County on Monday, March 28, detailed publicly for the first time how it plans to distribute the remaining $28.5 million in disaster relief raised through the Boulder County Wildfire Fund

The majority of the money — some $20 million — will directly help fire victims rebuild their homes in Boulder County, it said. 

“Number one, we want you back in your homes as quickly as humanly possible,” said Tatiana Hernandez, CEO of the Community Foundation Boulder County, which is administering the Boulder County Wildfire Fund. 

The fund has raised an “unprecedented” $38 million from more than 76,000 donors, Hernandez said. So far, it has allocated $8.1 million. That includes $5.5 million in direct payments to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed — including renters. Households of one or two people received $2,500 per household. Those with three or more people were given $5,000. Another $1.5 million went to workers who lost wages or livelihood equipment. 

Fire survivors and others in the community have been clamoring for answers on what will happen with the rest. As Hernandez gave her presentation before the roughly 45 people who gathered at the Superior Business Center, 100 or so questions poured in from viewers watching the meeting online. 

Reina Pomeroy, who joined the Marshall Together survivors group after losing her home in Louisville, spoke first, introducing Hernandez. “So many folks want to understand who the Community Foundation is, what they are doing on our behalf, and perhaps why we haven’t received more checks,” she said. She was skeptical about the foundation at first, she said, but praised the work it has done so far. The foundation “feels our urgency,” she said. 

Reina Pomeroy, who joined the Marshall Together survivors group after losing her home in Louisville, introduced Hernandez during Monday night’s presentation in Superior. Credit: Melissa Bailey

The 31-year-old Community Foundation typically gives about $10 million in grants annually, Hernandez said. It has administered six funds for crises, including last year’s King Soopers shooting, Covid-19 and the Boulder Creek floods in 2013. None came close to the amount of money raised after the Dec. 30 Marshall Fire.

“Disaster support infrastructure does not exist at the local level,” Hernandez told the crowd. “Every time a disaster happens, we have to create and recreate that information.”

She gave the following breakdown of how the next $28.5 million would be spent:

  • Up to $20 million for rebuilding efforts.
  • $1 million for “recovery navigators” to help people connect with disaster relief services.
  • Up to $1 million for smoke/ash remediation.
  • Up to $2.5 million for “unmet basic needs,” including food, housing and transportation.
  • Up to $500,000 for “social infrastructure / community resiliency,” through groups such as Marshall Together and Superior Rising.
  • Up to $750,000 for nonprofit organizations aiding disaster response.
  • Up to an additional $750,000 for mental health support.
  • Up to $2 million for debris removal for those who are underinsured or uninsured.

The foundation charges a 2 percent administrative fee on the fund, she said. 

Hernandez promised that by April 15, the foundation would announce a process by which survivors could apply for the $20 million for rebuilding their homes and access “recovery navigators” to guide them through. 

There are plans to create a “one-stop shop” — which could be a website, a hotline, or a storefront — for survivors to get information and resources, Hernandez said. She expressed impatience with getting that going. “If it takes any longer, frankly, my head’s going to explode.”

$20 million from the Boulder County Wildfire Fund will be allocated to help victims rebuild, causing fairness concern among some residents. Courtesy: Community Foundation Boulder County

Rebuilding focus worries some in the community

The priority on rebuilding raised concern over whether vulnerable people may be left out. 

Kevin Ryan, a healthcare consultant in Superior who did not lose his home, questioned the fairness of allocating $20 million only for people who can afford to rebuild. 

“There are residents that are so dramatically underinsured that they will not have a chance of rebuilding their homes,” he said. There are also elderly people who won’t be able to get a loan to rebuild their homes, given their age, he added. 

Excluding those groups “feels particularly cruel when you anchor to the fact that the donations were intended to help the people that were most vulnerable,” Ryan said.

“Will you reconsider that?” he asked.

“I’m not against it,” Hernandez said. But there’s a legal hurdle, she said.

“I’m open to helping to draft a legal argument for charitable purpose for people to leave our community.” But she said, “I’m having a hard time finding a legal argument for [that] charitable purpose.”

She explained: “Every time a charitable organization, particularly a foundation, gives dollars directly to individuals, we take on something that’s called expenditure responsibility. All that means is that we have to make sure that the money is used for the charitable purpose for which it was intended.”

The intent of the fund is to not only help the neediest, Hernandez said. While other disaster responses focus on low-income survivors, she said, “we’re different, and we need everybody to have the support that they need.” 

Her slide presentation described it this way: “We are working with local partners to create a simple, centralized, and human-centered solution to support everyone in our community.”

Ted Pilinski, 70, who lost his house in Louisville and said he was “horribly underinsured,” asked Hernandez if the $20 million for rebuilding would be divided evenly, and who would be eligible.

“We don’t know yet,” Hernandez replied. “We don’t have a census of this community.”

A total of 1,084 homes were destroyed and 149 damaged, according to county officials. But beyond that, lots of data is missing, Hernandez said. Three months after the fire, the foundation still doesn’t know precisely how many people were affected, their average household income, average time lived in their homes, or how many households plan to rebuild. 

The Community Foundation released a survey for survivors Monday night to fill in the missing data. Sensitive information, such as income, will be kept confidential, Hernandez said.

The full presentation from the Community Foundation:

Melissa Bailey is a 2021-22 Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has been reporting on health care for the past six years, most recently as a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR and other publications. She started her career in community journalism — spending eight years at the New Haven Independent — and was a Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard from 2014 to 2015. She has also reported for STAT, a health and science publication affiliated with the Boston Globe, and she spent three years on the investigative team at Kaiser Health News.