DENVER (AP) – A week after the Waldo Canyon Fire roared through their hillside neighborhood, Joseph Boyd and Trish Nelson-Boyd returned to a five-bedroom home reduced to 18 inches of ash. A fireball with temperatures estimated at 2,000 degrees left little more than the twisted motors from their kitchen appliances. On that same spot today on Yankton Place – only three months later – stands a nearly completed stucco home scheduled for move-in Nov. 5, the first rebuilt house in the Waldo Canyon Fire burn area.
All around the building site, backhoes and other heavy construction equipment buzz and rumble – the stirrings of a community coming back to life much quicker than many might have imagined.
“We saw the horrific loss of the house that had all our memories in it,” said Joseph Boyd, standing in what soon will be his master bedroom. “Now, we’re anxious to start creating new memories here.”
While the Boyds rebuild, other homeowners in the wildfire-scarred Mountain Shadows neighborhood on the city’s west side remain in limbo, bound to the outcome of negotiations with insurance companies and lenders or their own soul-searching about whether to return.
Still, as of Friday, 27 permits had been issued for rebuilt homes.
The precise number of homes destroyed is in dispute because of discrepancies over whether two heavily damaged homes should be included. To date, the official number stands at 347; two people died in the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.
Other communities, from Southern California to northern Colorado, have taken longer to rebuild.
But for a number of reasons – from sheer gumption and gentle neighborhood peer pressure to a cooperative building department and a history of good relations between building officials and local contractors – Mountain Shadows is rising again.
Contractors have helped devise permit rules and provided feedback on proposed stricter wildfire-mitigation regulations, part of an effort to craft reasonable but not over-burdensome rules, officials say.
“Our main concern was the welfare of our citizens,” said Bob Croft, deputy building official with Pikes Peak Regional Building, a quasi-governmental entity that provides plan review and inspections in El Paso County.
“With this unique tragedy, anything we can do to get lives back to some semblance of normal, we feel we owed that to them. Our main thing was we wanted people to be able to get permits as quickly as possible.”
Cleanup was an immediate concern at Mountain Shadows.
Rumors flew that some residents would walk away and leave their neighbors to live with blowing ash and holes in the ground.
And shell-shocked victims – many spending time arguing with insurance companies – didn’t fully grasp the process.
GE Johnson Construction took the lead in educating property owners about debris removal. The local firm worked under the auspices of Colorado Springs Together, a nonprofit formed to help with recovery and financed mostly by local business donations.
Company president Jim Johnson said those involved in the effort pushed the building and health departments to be more flexible, helping develop a slightly modified, quicker debris-removal process.
“The debris-removal permit was kind of an invention of our team,” he said.
GE Johnson also demonstrated proper cleanup on two properties, inviting homeowners, insurance companies and contractors to watch the process. Insurance typically covers the cost, which runs from $3,000 to $20,000, depending on the house.
Not everyone was happy. Competing debris-removal companies protested that GE Johnson – which builds hospitals, schools and commercial buildings – was using political influence to profit.
“The free market is wonderful, but sometimes it’s not real pretty,” Johnson said. “I think people viewed our company as trying to get our way in and profit from this, which was not our intent, obviously. And I can guarantee you, we didn’t.”
Joseph Boyd and Trish Nelson-Boyd confess one reason they moved forward quickly was to avoid any additional restrictions that city officials might impose on rebuilding.
Still, they happily agreed to follow the fire-mitigation standards that aren’t yet mandated.
“We don’t want to have to endure that again,” Nelson-Boyd said of the destruction.
Their close friends and next-door neighbors are selling their lot, too traumatized by television footage showing their home in flames.
“We are in a hurry,” Nelson-Boyd said. “We just want to go home.”