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Colorado wildfire relief: 'Beginning of the long haul'

DENVER -- It's been just a week since the Waldo Canyon fire crested the mountain range next to Colorado Springs and roared toward the state’s second-largest city. 

In that time, 32,000 people have been evacuated. Two people have died in the blaze, and 346 homes have burned to their foundations. Firefighters have been battling 24-7, and with the help of shifting winds, have the fire 55 percent contained, according to the National Interagency Coordinating Center.

While the fire threat is currently waning and many evacuees are returning home, the damage, dislocation and trauma from the wildfire remain. On Sunday, people from the Mountain Shadows subdivision were allowed to return briefly to secure homes that remained standing, or view the charred remains of those that burned.

"For us, it’s the beginning of the long haul," said Anne Marie Borrego, a spokesperson for the Red Cross who accompanied residents. "When disaster occurs ... we are there so much longer, long after the television cameras pack up and leave."

In coming days, msnbc.com will be on the ground in Colorado Springs looking at the myriad ways that nonprofit groups and volunteers are stepping up to help and rebuild.


The groups at the core of disaster relief are household names like the Red Cross, Salvation Army and FEMA working alongside the local and state governments. They are mainstay organizations for shelter, food and logistics.

Filling the gaps in manpower, funding and niche needs is an army of individual volunteers, nonprofit groups and churches. They are focused on accommodating disabled evacuees, making sure the elderly are protected from the searing heat, fostering hundreds of displaced cats, dogs and cattle, providing fresh socks to weary firefighters and entertaining children in evacuation centers.

Adrees Latif / Reuters

Residents began returning to charred areas of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday after the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and left the landscape a blackened wasteland.

Although firefighting forces are optimistic, and the weather is cooperating, the threat is not gone. On Monday, there were still 1,518 personnel dedicated to containing the Waldo Canyon fire -- now about 17,800 square acres -- supported by heavy air tankers and helicopters, according to the National Interagency Coordinating Center. The growth potential for the fire is listed as "extreme" by the Incident Information System, which tracks fires.

Already federal firefighting forces are stretched, because there are record-setting fires burning from Montana to New Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Compounding the fire woes, Colorado Springs police said there have been 22 reported burglaries and attempted burglaries in the evacuated areas, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported. Homes in one evacuated area were invaded by bears, apparently drawn by the smell of rotting food, the report said.

In coming days, look for our posts and video from Colorado Springs covering the creative and inspired ways that people are coping, contributing and rebuilding their community.

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