Denver, CO

Rebuilding after Colorado fire to be long, slow process

Margaret Jackson

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By Margaret Jackson / NewsBreak Denver

(Boulder County, Colo.) The first things victims of the wildfire that raged through Louisville and Superior should do is contact their insurance agents and find rental properties where they can live until they can rebuild their homes.

The Colorado Division of Insurance recommends filing a claim as soon as possible because the process can take some time, but it’s also important to secure a place to live because the rental market is so tight, said Karen Bernardi, owner/broker of The Bernardi Group Coldwell Banker.

“If they can rent something, they should do it as quickly as possible,” she said. “It’s the people who get out there first who will find something.”

An estimated 1,000 homes in Superior and Louisville were consumed by the 6,000-acre fire, displacing about 30,000 residents across Boulder County and causing an estimated $825 million in property damage.

But there were just 506 homes available for rent in Boulder County and 1,194 in all of metro Denver, according to a Zillow search on Jan. 5. Bernardi predicts that many people who lost their homes will find housing in Longmont, Westminster, Arvada and Golden.

“When you’re in a state of grief and shock and you’re trying to find a place to put your family and kids and hopefully you still have your pets, it’s heartbreaking and incredibly stressful,” Bernardi said.

Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, anticipates that most homeowners will rebuild on the site of their previous home.

“In a more urban area like this, this is where they live, where they work and where their kids go to school, so we expect to see a lot of rebuilding,” Walker said.

If history is any indication, not all fire victims will rebuild.

The 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, which destroyed 347 homes near Colorado Springs, provides a glimpse into how Boulder County residents could respond to rebuilding. After that fire, just 80% of homeowners rebuilt on their sites. ost worked with their original builder to rebuild the same house, which likely sped up the permitting process, according to the Home Builders Association (HBA) of Metro Denver.

HBA members support fire victims

The HBA is working to ensure that its members and the industry as a whole provide support to the victims of the fire — both now and during the years-long rebuilding process that lies ahead.

Steps the organization is taking include:

  • Creating a resource page on its website to provide accurate information about rebuilding, finding a builder or contractor and preventing scams and further loss
  • Working with Gov. Jared Polis, county commissioners, mayors, city managers and other leaders to provide support for housing impacted residents and future housing needs
  • Assembling a task force of HBA leaders to guide the industry’s efforts

“We will be utilizing many of the resources that the (National Association of Home Builders( NAHB and fellow HBAs — such as the Colorado Springs Housing & Building Association and Grand County Builders Association — developed as they lead the rebuilding of their communities after previous wildfires,” HBA CEO Ted Leighty and HBA Board President Jeff McGovern wrote in a letter to members.

But finding a builder when the time comes could prove difficult. The lack of labor and skyrocketing cost of materials are likely to make it challenging to start construction of multiple homes at one time, said David Sinkey, president and CEO of Boulder Creek Neighborhoods, which has four office buildings in downtown Louisville that did not catch fire, but suffered from smoke damage.

Sinkey said he has heard that smaller homebuilders would like to help with the rebuilding effort, but they’re so busy that they’re booking jobs well into 2023 or 2024.

“It’s going to be a little bit of chaos in the short term, but hopefully folks at the municipalities will find resources through consultants who have experience dealing with this,” Sinkey said. “It’s going to be a marathon. There’s so much to be done, so much to be learned. The process is going to be frustratingly long.”

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I'm a Denver-based business writer with expertise in commercial and residential real estate as well as general business news.

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