A month after the Black Forest fire blackened thousands of acres of forest lands, sending businesses and homes alike up in flames, charred trees and ash-covered ground somberly fill the landscape, and the sound of backhoes and chainsaws fills the air.
For some, it’s business as usual, or maybe even a little busier than usual. Other companies are completely starting over, rebuilding from the ashes. Still others find themselves somewhere in the middle — business intact, but recovering from weeks of lost revenue.
“The Black Forest fire was different than Waldo Canyon,” said Aikta Marcoulier, executive director of the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center. “We’re seeing more physical damage, more direct problems. In Waldo Canyon, the businesses that were hurt were the ones in Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs — the tourist areas. In Black Forest, so many businesses were home-based, and we lost so many homes.”
The Black Forest fire started June 11 and spent days burning out of control. A total of 486 homes were destroyed, a marked increase from the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire that left 347 homes burned.
The SBDC set up a disaster-assistance program last year to help businesses recover after the Waldo Canyon fire. This year, the SBDC added Black Forest businesses.
“We’re the first place businesses go to get help after the fire,” Marcoulier said. “We have short-term disaster-assistance loans to help businesses get back on their feet. And we just discovered a new grant for arts-and-crafts businesses, so we’re telling businesses about that. Many of the Black Forest businesses were arts-related, like woodworkers.”
The fire consumed the Black Forest Veterinary Clinic at 12740 Black Forest Road, leaving nothing behind but a burned sign, a few flowerpots and a blackened foundation.
But the family owned vet clinic isn’t giving up. The clinic reopened for business Monday at a “borrowed” location, the Powers Pet Emergency Clinic at 5956 Powers Blvd., said co-owner Sue Mohr.
Customers can still call the old number, 495-3666, for appointments. Next month, the business will relocate to a new clinic in Black Forest.
“We are by no means folding,” said Mohr. “We will be practicing in the Forest.”
The couple lost no animals in the fire. But everything else was a total loss.
“We’re having to replace everything,” she said.
Mohr and her husband, veterinarian Ted Mohr, had removed the business computer prior to the fire, so some electronic records were saved.
As for other items, Mohr said, the couple’s customers have come to their aid.
An anesthesiology machine was donated, and one client is building new exam tables and counters for the new clinic.
“We are incredibly grateful,” she said. “Our clients have offered anything we need.”
Another client, a retired forester, marked the lot’s trees that can be saved; yet another client is an excavator that “helped build the clinic, and now they’re going to tear it down.”
“Our clients have been unbelievable,” sending cards, phone messages and flowers, Mohr said.
Initially, the fire created “quite a financial impact,” at Black Forest Automotive, an auto repair shop at 6580 Shoup Road, said owner Eric Aeschliman.
The shop was closed 11 days during the evacuation, and the closure created a short-term hardship.
“Fortunately we have an amazing customer base. They basically waited for us to come back,” Aeschliman said.
“The parking lot was full of cars (about 30) when we evacuated,” Aeschliman said. “Two cars burned to the ground and two other cars were damaged.” The balance of the cars were not harmed.
“We’ve been blessed,” he said.
That’s the way neighbor Kris Hill, co-owner of Table Rock Llamas Fiber Arts Studio, feels about the fire.
Closed since June 11, Hill re-opened the yarn and dye store on June 25, and she said she was surprised there wasn’t more damage.
“We really thought we lost the store,” she said. “We could tell where the fire was, and it looked like it was here. And it was — you can tell the firefighters really made a stand here, a stand to save our business.”
The back wall of one of the buildings was scorched, she said, and the landscape around the store was blackened and burned.
But Hill still had to deal with the fire’s aftermath.
“We put all the yarn that was here on sale,” she said. “We had some smoke damage, but it wasn’t too bad. Still, we wanted to give money to the Black Forest fire department, and we couldn’t sell the yarn at full-price.”
So the store and its customers — all of whom filled the space in the first days it was open — raised $1,000 for local firefighters. But Hill’s still worried.
“I might have to take out a short-term loan,” she said. “We were closed for two weeks, and we lost business — and now there’s all this re-ordering to do. We might have to do something to make sure we can ride this out.”
Many Black Forest businesses, particularly those near Black Forest and Shoup roads, were unscathed by the path of the fire.
“We’re one of the lucky ones,” said Frances Esty of the Black Forest Center, a 6,000-square-foot office building off Black Forest and White Fir.
The metal office building suffered no damage, despite charred trees just across the parking lot. “We’re trying to help where we can.”
The office center finds itself full as other businesses seek new space.
With one tenant moving out and another set to move in, “We’re scrambling right now,” Esty said.
Two local restaurants reported they are benefiting in the aftermath of the fire.
Rudy’s Roadhouse has seen an increase in business, said bartender Jennifer Spires.
“Mostly, we’ve had more business,” Spires said. “But we’ve heard a lot of sad stories.”
That’s how Sean Schickler, son of the owner of Firehouse Barbecue, characterized the business in the days since the fire. Evacuated for a week, Firehouse serves lunches to construction crews and other workers who are cleaning up and starting the rebuilding process.
“Business has been phenomenal ever since the fire,” he said. “We have so much more traffic. Since people found out about us, found out that we are still open, they are coming in just to try us out.”
Black Forest businesses are neighborhood businesses, and all of them are pulling together to bring a sense of normalcy back to the tree-lined roads in the El Paso County neighborhood. And for some, it was a repeat of last year.
Jason Crawford, of Action Demolition and Excavating, operated a backhoe Friday at a home destroyed by the Black Forest fire. For him, it was a return to the ashes, as Action had worked removing debris after the Waldo Canyon fire.
“It’s all a community effort,” Crawford said.
Even though the rebuilding will continue for months, business owners said they are hopeful they can weather the economic aftermath of the fire. Marcoulier said the SBDC is using lessons learned from Waldo Canyon to ease the process.
“It’s still early, and we expect losses to go up significantly,” she said.
“We have set up ZIP codes that we think will be affected, and we’re doing intake calls. We’ve already helped several businesses with loan information, packets about what to do,” she said.
“We expect we’ll see more in the next months, as people sort out what to do next.”
Amy Gillentine contributed to this story.
Waldo Canyon fire:
Estimated economic loss: $9.5 million
Estimated physical loss: $2.4 million
Info packets sent: 900
Outbound calls: 2,600
SBDC consulting sessions: 243
SBA loan applications: 19
SBA loans approved: $425,500
Total estimated loss: $12 million
Black Forest fire (early estimates)
Estimated economic loss: $1.6 million
Estimated physical loss: $39.4 million
Info packets sent: 93
Outbound calls (started July 3): Not yet calculated
SBDC consulting sessions: 93
SBA loan applications: Not yet determined
SBA loans approved: Not yet determined
Total estimated economic and physical losses: $41.1 million
(Source: Small Business Development Center)