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Marshall Fire survivors find 'silver linings' at recovery center as Biden visits

 Volunteers unload water at the disaster recovery center in Lafayette on Friday.
Scott Franz
Capitol Coverage
Volunteers unload water at the disaster recovery center in Lafayette on Friday.

Retired elementary school teacher Laura Nasiatka didn’t have enough time to grab her social security card and other important documents before she fled the Marshall Fire in Louisville.

It’s been over a week since the blaze destroyed her home.

A fundraiser for the Nasiatka family has generated more than $30,000 in online donations. She’s also in a rental home.

But the loss still stings.

“I start off the day by crying and thinking about all the school pictures of my children that I lost, the little heirlooms I had, like my grandfather’s tool chest, my dad’s baby picture,” she says. “But then as the day progresses, I typically find bits of silver lining.”

And Nasiatka says those silver linings continued Friday after she spent three hours at the Boulder County disaster recovery center in Lafayette.

The place looks and feels like a small city, with an army of volunteers handing out food and insurance companies helping people navigate the next steps in the recovery process. There are even service dogs to help bring some comfort to the area.

Inside, Nasiatka applied for a new social security card, financial assistance and more.

“I signed up for debris removal, and then I also signed up to have someone help me sift through because they say it’s really dangerous,” she said.

Behind Nasiatka, Dennis Belz was helping set up a big feast of chicken tinga tacos that would feed as many as 500 survivors of the blaze. He works for the Colorado Southern Baptist Disaster Recovery Center.

“They’re still having a hard difficult time,” he said. “People are just seeing their property for the first time. And it’s just, it’s just hard to accept because everything was so quick when it happened, and all of it is ash.”

And at the other side of the parking lot, Red Cross volunteer George McCrory traveled here from Iowa to hand out fire recovery kits to a steady stream of survivors. They help people clean up damaged homes.

Beside him, Red Cross volunteer Dutch Hodges says amidst all the stories of hardship and loss, she’s also starting to hear more stories of hope.

“People are in the process of moving forward,” she said. “There was a woman standing alone, she was in front of her yard and the house was gone, and she just looked so dejected. And some of the sifters found her grandmother’s ring in a pile of rubble, and she said, ‘I can go on, I can go on now,’ so sometimes it’s little things like that.”

And despite all her losses and the long days that she still has ahead, Laura Nasiatka was also hopeful about her situation.

“I am just feeling like Jimmy Stewart at the end of the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ because I feel like the whole town has come out to support me and my family,” she says. “That part is just amazing. The running and fleeing for our lives and knowing my house is a little pile of rubble is not so fun. The other parts are just so heartwarming and wonderful.”

President Joe Biden toured the fire scene on Friday meeting with survivors and first responders. He said the federal government would be there to help them throughout their recovery.

"We're going to make sure that everything you need occurs, including clearing all the debris and putting people in a position to rebuild," Biden said.

Also on Friday, Boulder County officials identified the human remains found earlier in the week as 69-year-old Robert Sharpe. He was one of two people listed as missing after the fire.

The Marshall Fire destroyed 1,084 homes and another 149 were damaged.

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.