Meeting Monday evening will inform some landowners in Spring Fire whether homes have been lost

FORT GARLAND — Some Forbes Park landowners will find out Monday evening whether or not their homes are still standing.

Chris Rodriguez, emergency management coordinator, explained during Sunday’s briefing on the Spring Fire that a team from the Costilla County Assessor’s Office had gone out into the burn area on Saturday to begin assessments. He said they conducted “windshield assessments” because it was not safe for them to get down, and because fire conditions worsened in the area they were assessing, they were only able to conduct structural assessments in a portion of the burned area. Because of fire conditions on Sunday, the assessor’s team was unable to go back to continue structural assessments.

The team collected data and is verifying it, and during a meeting Monday evening at 6 p.m. at the Centennial School in San Luis, homeowners in the area where assessments have been completed will be told in smaller groups whether or not their homes are still standing, Rodriguez and Costilla County Undersheriff Ricky Rodriguez explained.

Notifications on Monday, July 2 at 6 p.m. will be shared for Forbes Park landowners in units A1, A2, B1. B2, C1, C2, D1, D2, E1, E2, F1, F2, G1 and part of H1. Evacuees who have not yet received re-entry identification (rapid tags) may come earlier, between 5 and 5:50 p.m. to obtain those. Only evacuees with rapid tags will be allowed into the meeting at Centennial School.

They also explained that the meeting would be held at the school in San Luis instead of the evacuation center in Blanca/Fort Garland because there would be more space to break the residents into groups for privacy, and there will also be more organizations available to offer assistance. The entire group will initially meet in the school gym and receive information about what services are available and then break into groups according to geographic areas.

No one except homeowners from the affected area will be allowed in that meeting at the school Monday night.

Chris Rodriguez encouraged homeowners to be patient as the assessment team completes its work, because the team wants to make sure its information is accurate before telling homeowners whether or not their houses are still standing.

Also to protect homeowners’ privacy, only unit numbers will be listed on web sites. Property owners may go to the assessor’s web site to determine their unit numbers if they do not have them with them. Unit numbers are listed on their tax notices. Also, property owners from out of state may monitor the web sites for information on their individual properties.

Incident Commander Shane Greer said the work of the assessors in determining which structures have been lost is “not an easy task,” and when they are looking on the ground, there may be multiple foundations, which can all look the same once the structures they contained are burned down. That is why they have to go back and take the time to review their records regarding the structures, such as garages, houses and other buildings, that might have been located on a specific property.

“It is hard, hard work to figure what is what in a fire area,” Greer said.

Greer added that everyone from the governor’s office on down wants to know how many structures have been lost, and at this time he cannot give a number because structural assessments have not been completed. “We just can’t say because we don’t know. We’re still working on assessments … When we have assessments done we will have a number.” He added that until the property owners themselves know, everyone else could wait.

Other highlights from Sunday’s briefing include:

  • Because of the fire has spread so far apart geographically, a second incident command team is coming in and will coordinate efforts north of Highway 160 while Greer will continue coordinating the efforts south of Highway 160. The second team will be managed out of Walsenburg while the first team will continue to operate out of Fort Garland.
  • Currently there are about 500 firefighters and other emergency staff working on the Spring Fire. That number will increase with the second team coming in.
  • The size of the fire is still listed as 41,292 acres. Aircraft were unable to conduct infrared flights on Saturday night due to low visibility with the smoke.
  • Undersheriff Rodriguez responded to a rumor that the individual charged with arson related to the fire had intentionally started the fire. He said that was not the case but he could not give further details. Jesper Jorgensen, 52, has been charged with arson in connection with the fire.
  • This continues to be a challenging fire because of shifting winds, and priority continues to be “point protection,” protecting homes.
  • The evacuation center at the Blanca/Fort Garland Community Center continues to provide services including shelter and food to all evacuees, and there is plenty of room. A nurse practitioner and doctor are available today (Sunday, July 1), and behavioral health counselors are on hand. The shelter will remain active as long as it is needed.
  • Responding to a question that there might be some insurance adjustors in the fire area already, Greer said that was not the case. However, there might be some firefighters working on the scene that are paid for by private insurance, but they are certified firefighters. They are not working under the incident command’s jurisdiction but are permitted by the sheriff’s office to be present to work on behalf of their clients.
  • See