Black Forest residents voice frustrations at community meeting

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During a community meeting for Black Forest resident emotions ran high for those seeking information about assistance, the status of their homes and when they would be allowed re-entry.

Commissioner Darryl Glenn, whose district includes Black Forest, hosted the meeting to provide information on where residents can go for assistance with their needs. Many residents wanted information on the status of their homes and when they could go see their homes but he reminded residents that particular information would have to come from the sheriff.

Patty Baxter, head of the El Paso County Office of Emergency Management, told residents that Kathy Russell, also from emergency management, would be taking the lead on the re-entry process for residents. Russell is a Black Forest resident who many residents know and a former lieutenant with the Black Forest Fire and Rescue.

Other residents were concerned about pets that were left behind and voiced loud and clear that the Black Forest Animal Sanctuary must be allowed access back in to rescue animals. The animal sanctuary had been going into the burn area to retrieve animals but was escorted out on Friday. Residents and volunteers with the rescue said the volunteers with the animal sanctuary needed to get credentials to be let back in.

Commissioner Peggy Littleton told residents that several volunteer organizations would be available to help residents sift through the ash to retrieve any items that may have survived the fire.

“This community is here to help,” Littleton said.

She also talked what to do if people need to evacuate and they should have a 72-hour kit ready however she was cut short when one person in the audience yelled, “We are already past that.”

Littleton was met with applause when she told residents that she told law enforcement to shoot on sight if they see any looters.

“We've already gone through enough trauma and heartache,” she said.

There was a time for questions and answers and one resident asked if the next meetings could focus on those residents who don't know where to go and who are scared and others asked if there could possibly be a location, perhaps in Monument, where residents can go instead of having to go to the Citizen's Service Center on the Garden of the Gods.

Some residents stood up and encouraged other residents including Judy von Ahlefeldt, publisher of the Black Forest News. Ahlefeldt has been a resident of Black Forest for 43 years and was one of the many who lost her home in the fire. All the houses on her street burned down. She also lost one of her horses and the other was badly burned and receiving care.

When the fire first started Ahlefeldt didn't immediately leave. She spent an hour taking pictures of the fire for the newspaper.

“I saw it crown,” von Ahlefeldt said.

von Ahledeldt lives north of the slash/mulch area, which is located on Shoup and Herring Roads. She said once the wind changed direction it headed straight towards her home.

She was able to save very little of her own belongings.

“I did save the newspaper archives,” von Ahlefeldt said.

She said she knew that one day this type of fire would happen in Black Forest and might not have been as bad if more people would have mitigated.

“It wasn't a matter of if but when,” she added.

She said recently a lot of mitigating was done at La Foret Conference and Retreat Center and that's what saved those buildings.

Also untouched were the buildings at the corner of Shoup and Black Forest Roads including the historic Black Forest Log School and the Black Forest Community Center.

“That's the heart of our community,” von Ahlefeldt said.

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