USA –– Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday joined the list of Obama administration officials to visit the Waldo Canyon fire burn area in the aftermath of what is the most destructive wildfire in state history.
“It’s going to take the whole community over a long period of time to restore these communities,” said Salazar, flanked by local and federal officials at a news conference in downtown Colorado Springs.
With the Waldo Canyon fire 98 percent contained, Salazar toured the Mountain Shadows neighborhood where the homes destroyed in the blaze once stood and met with displaced residents.
“This community is resilient,” Salazar said. “I got a sense from residents who had lost everything that they know in their hearts that this great community will eventually rise from these ashes.” Moreover, Salazar stressed that the federal government is committed to working with nonprofits and the private sector in restoration efforts.
A native Coloradan, Salazar called the Colorado Springs visit “special” as he has fond memories from his years as a student at Colorado College.
Salazar’s trip followed a stop by President Barack Obama to the fire’s burn area June 29 and a visit last week from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
On June 28, Obama approved a major disaster declaration for Colorado. It opens up federal funds to the state, eligible local governments and nonprofit organizations for “emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, for El Paso and Larimer counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires,” according to a news release from the U.S. Agriculture Department.
With thunderstorms continuing to drench much of Colorado, and burn areas stripped of vegetation, Mike Byrne, a FEMA coordinating officer, urged residents whose homes are still standing to purchase flood insurance.
“When topography has changed, the ground can’t absorb water the way it did 15 days ago,” Byrne said. “The way to protect homes is to get this insurance sooner rather than later.”
In his brief remarks Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, mentioned his experiences in dealing with local and national tragedies.
“From Columbine to the national level with the gulf oil spill, I’ve witnessed these events … just know that there’s better days ahead,” Salazar said.
A cause for the Waldo Canyon fire, which destroyed 347 homes and claimed the lives of an elderly couple, has yet to be determined. It started June 23.