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From wildfire disaster to Fourth of July extravaganza

The Flying W Ranch Wranglers, a local band put out of work by the Waldo Canyon Wildfires, rehearsed with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic ahead of their July 4th benefit concert.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Waldo Canyon fire has been the most destructive in state history, but it has galvanized the community here in ways that are unprecedented too.

In just a few days, as emergency services ramped up and firefighters beat back the blaze that destroyed 346 homes and scorched 18,000 acres, some unlikely partners pulled together an extravaganza to celebrate the Fourth of July, and raise money to get victims back on their feet.

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic, originally scheduled to play at the Air Force Academy fireworks celebration—which was canceled -- will headline a concert in the 7,500-seat World Arena with the Flying W Wranglers, blue grass musicians who were left jobless after their usual venue, the Flying W Ranch, was destroyed in the fire.


A popular news anchor from the local NBC affiliate television station KOAA will emcee the event, The Community Rises, which will be produced by Rocky Mountain Public Television and streamed by all the local commercial television and radio stations while raising fire relief funds through a telethon.

Erik S. Lesser / EPA

Americans celebrate 236 years of independence with parades, fireworks, hot dogs and family fun.

The underwriters of the program are perhaps the most unlikely local partners of all: The alternative left-leaning weekly Colorado Springs Independent and Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization that has its international headquarters here.

"We’ve had fierce battles with Focus over the years," said John Weiss, publisher of the Independent. "But we needed to show we are a community united … and give people something to do on the Fourth of July since the fireworks are canceled."

Also appearing at the fundraiser are Isaac Slade of The Fray, Michael Martin Murphey and Flash Cadillac. Tickets for the event were distributed for free, and all proceeds from the telethon will go to a local victims’ assistance fund administered by United Way, said Weiss.

In a one-and-only rehearsal on Tuesday, Philharmonic cellist Camilla Bonzo said she was sight-reading her way through the music.

PBS producer and director Scott Jones said he had just finished cobbling together a crew that afternoon by borrowing staff from many of the local stations. Jones is responsible for producing and feeding the event via satellite to all the other broadcasters, a job he didn’t realize he was doing until Friday morning.

"We used to do big events like this once in a while," Jones says. "But we spent months preparing for them."

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