MONTE VISTA — The City of Monte Vista held an informational meeting on April 27 for people directly impacted by the wind-driven fire that destroyed six homes on April 20.
The meeting at the Outcalt Event and Conference at SLV Ski Hi Complex was attended by nearly 100 people.
City of Monte Vista officials provided information on cleanup plans, gave an update on the investigation into the cause of the fire, and collected needed information from fire victims.
The overall takeaway from the meeting was that help was available to people impacted by the fire, some of it immediately and some will require a lot of patience.
"We are here for you guys, as a city we are trying to do everything we can," said Monte Vista Mayor Dale Becker at the top of the meeting. "Thank you all for being here, we are neighbors, we might live across town from each other, but we are neighbors, because our community is Monte Strong, and it’s always been that way.”
During the meeting, people from the county, state and federal agencies, and local financial institutions and businesses introduced themselves and spoke briefly about the services they provide.
Everyone who spoke during the nearly 90-minute gathering expressed their condolences to the fire victims.
A total of 15 structures were burned or destroyed by the fire that covered 17 acres between West Sickles Street and Acequia Drive in north Monte Vista, according to officials.
Monte Vista Police Department Chief of Police George Dingfelder said the investigation was progressing and involved many agencies, but that it would be weeks before it is concluded. At that point, it will be passed on to the 12th Judicial District Attorney's Office to determine if criminal charges will be pursued.
“An update on the criminal investigation, well we are still gathering a lot of information," Chief Dingfelder said. "Any time there is a fire, you must treat it as a criminal event, whether it was intentional or accidental.”
Dingfelder spoke of how many different agencies were investigating the case, but there was a lot to process, and it would take some time.
Chief Dingfelder, and others, also warned the families of scammers and of people coming into their lives wanting to capitalize on their misfortune.
Monte Vista City Manager Gigi Dennis led the meeting and said it was important to keep the lines of communication open.
"This has been a rough haul for all of you," she said. "This has been rough on all of us, but it’s been rougher on you. I appreciate the shortness of saying OK let’s get together. We’ve received some feedback from some folks saying, we are not getting enough communication out.”
Dennis explained that the city appreciated the communication from the families and that the city had been working diligently to gather information for the families so they could have something tangible to help them figure out where they are currently and where they are going.
“I want you to know that all of our gestures in this have been sincere, and we view this as top priority,” Dennis said.
Dennis said the city wants to help alleviate some of the pressure that the families are going through. One way to do that was with a fire recovery plan that was being organized by City of Monte Vista Public Works Director Rob Vance.
"The goal for Public Works is, I want to try to do this as expediently as I can, but slow enough that mistakes are not made," Vance said. "I would like to go over what I have done, where we are, and what we are getting ready to move forward."
Vance said they received a waiver for demolition permits from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). He said this shortens the response time, whether it is the people, their insurance, or the city going in to clean the lot.
Vance recommended that if the families look through the debris, they wear dust masks. He offered to provide dust masks to people who needed them. Vance explained the process of getting rid of the debris and taking it to the landfill.
Vance also explained that he is working on an infrastructure recovery plan, but for this to happen he will need to meet with each family individually to assess exactly what has been damaged. Vance said he needs an actual cost to give to the contractors to see what they could do.
Representatives of the Rio Grande County Department of Social Services, the Rio Grande County Clerk's Office, USDA Rural Development Center in Alamosa, Nazarene Thrift Store in Monte Vista, San Luis Valley Federal Bank, and Sunflower Bank all spoke.
The meeting concluded with the families filling out forms and speaking individually with city officials and agency representatives.
Sabino Sanchez, who lost his home in the Monte Vista Fire, said the meeting was beneficial.
“I feel this meeting really went well," Sanchez said. "There was really a lot of information available for us. I can feel the love and the outpouring of the community for all the victims who lost their homes. I thank God for this, without him we are nothing. I can’t thank the city, the county, and the police and fire department enough for all their help and support.”