In June 2012, Colorado experienced the worst wildfire on record. This year, we topped it. I say "we" because I'm a resident of Colorado Springs, Colo., and last week, I, along with hundreds of others, watched our property burn.
There's nothing quite like watching your home ablaze -- whether it's your personal residence, or the area surrounding where you live -- the desperation that grips you, knowing there's nothing you can do but watch, is beyond words. But even in the midst of this tragedy, there's a silver lining: When things look bleak, the generosity of others will surprise you.
Last Tuesday, Colorado Springs had record-breaking temperatures of 97 degrees, all while Colorado was, and is, in the middle of a drought -- perfect fire weather. Around 1 p.m. a call came in that there was a fire burning in the area known as Black Forest. Firefighters responded to the scene quickly, but the conditions allowed the fire to grow from 15 acres to 7,500 acres with 300-foot flames, in a matter of hours. In the initial run, a reported 60 homes burned.
From Tuesday through Thursday, firefighters tried desperately to slow the growth of the Black Forest fire. The military and aircraft were brought in, and the fire was upgraded to a Type 1 Incident -- the most severe type of wildfire -- but despite everyone's best effort, the Black Forest fire grew to 14,280 acres, killed two, and destroyed 509 homes. As of today, more than a week after the fire started, the Black Forest fire is at 95% containment and stands as officially the worst Colorado wildfire on record.
The light in the darkness
For me, the Black Forest fire burned the property where my husband and I are building a home -- but we're lucky. Our lot burned, and though we didn't lose everything, 509 other families weren't that lucky. That's where the community stepped in.
During the fire, thousands of people donated food and beverages to help firefighters working on the front lines. In fact, when organizations such as Care and Share mentioned a need, donations would flood the center. Thousands of people also volunteered to help in whatever capacity was needed -- animal rescue, call-center manning, you name it.
Local businesses also stepped up. Last year, Tucker Wannamaker, a business owner with Magneti Marketing, helped start Wild Fire Tees, 100% of whose profits go to help victims. When I asked him about this effort, he said:
Wild Fire Tees launched on a Wednesday, the day after the Waldo Canyon fire moved through a big neighborhood in Colorado Springs. We thought we'd sell a couple hundred tees. That was way off. By the end of Thursday, we'd sold $170,000 worth of tees.
Tucker credits this success to a combination of social media, people's deep love for Colorado Springs, and an overall desire to help.
Now, Wild Fire Tees is at it again and selling T-shirts to raise money for victims of the Black Forest fire. Tucker said Wild Fire Tees aims to raise $500,000 for victims, and considering it's already raised $400,000, the goal is in sight. When I asked him what makes Colorado Springs so special, and what drove him to help, he said:
We're a community that bands together. I think the whole state is really that way. There's something magical about this state of ours.
Wild Fire Tees isn't the only local business to help fire victims. Poor Richard's Restaurant offered complimentary pizza for fire victims and firefighters. Tucanos, another local restaurant, offered free lunch on Sundays to evacuees. And Sky Sox Stadium offered free upper reserved seat vouchers to people donating food, and other needed goods. That's just a few of the hundreds of business that stepped in to help. And that's not all.
As a writer for The Motley Fool, it's easy for me to be critical of companies -- that's my job. But watching million- and billion-dollar companies look past their bottom-line to help fire victims reaffirmed to me why there's more to evaluating a company than just finances. CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL ) offered free call forwarding to fire victims. Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ ) provided a $10,000 grant to The American Red Cross, offered one-to-one matching of employee donations, and set up a system in which Verizon wireless customers could donate $10 by texting, without a fee, STORM or REDCROSS. And unlike DIRECTV's initial response to a fire victim that resulted in widespread social-media outrage, DISH Network (NASDAQ: DISH ) proactively issued a statement saying all equipment damage fees would be waived, fire victims could pause service, and there would be no reinstallation fees.
Even defense heavyweight Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC ) is helping fire victims. For employees who want to help victims by making donations to 501(c)(3) organizations, Northrop will match donations up to $5,000 per employee. In addition, the Northrop Grumman Foundation provided a $25,000 grant to the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross following the Waldo Canyon fire. That grant was used to buy medical cots, dividers, and a new disaster trailer. Mark Root, Northrop's corporate director of media relations, said:
During the Black Forest fire, that disaster trailer was immediately put into service. The executive director of the local Red Cross has repeatedly thanked us and communicated how important the equipment/supplies were in supporting Red Cross operations during this blaze. In one case, it enabled them to offer emergent care to a fire evacuee.
Through their responses to the Black Forest fire, these companies demonstrated that there's more to them than just profits. And when I evaluate a company's potential long-term stability and growth, the importance a company places on its reputation and how it treats people plays a large factor.
We will rebuild
Nothing can completely undo the damage from the Black Forest fire, but nothing will destroy our community. As a community, we've bonded together to help. More importantly, we will not forget those who stepped up to help us fight this fire and rebuild. Even now, a year after the Waldo Canyon fire, signs thanking firefighters are proudly displayed in our city. The same will happen to the signs of thanks for the firefighters who battled the Black Forest fire. We, as a community, will never burn.