Wildland Fire Fund- 20 Years in the Making
By Coya Pair
In 2022, El Pomar Foundation is recognizing 20 years of its Wildland Fire Fund. The Fund assists with the immediate emergency needs of volunteer fire fighting agencies and first responders throughout the state, as well as Search and Rescue and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) departments to help procure proper and necessary equipment. Below is a timeline tracing key phases of the Fund and its response to the growing challenge of wildfires throughout Colorado over the last 20 years.
A History of Supporting in Crisis
Amid World War I, Julie Penrose offered aid to organizations supporting approximately 82,000 children orphaned as a result of the war. During the Great Depression, Spencer Penrose helped finance Fountain Valley School with the intention of creating jobs and economic support to the community. And during World War II, Julie provided amenities for military service members and their families and hired Japanese Americans who had previously been interned to work at The Broadmoor hotel. These acts by El Pomar Foundation co-founders, Spencer and Julie Penrose, set the early precedent to support Coloradans in times of crisis, and help prevention efforts for future crises.
An Ongoing Challenge for Colorado
Wildfires have been and continue to be a challenge for Colorado. Local firefighting agencies, fire protection districts, search and rescue teams, state and federal agencies and more are hard at work throughout the season to protect the people of Colorado from these natural disasters. El Pomar Foundation is proud to support these organizations’ critical efforts to save lives, protect property and maintain our natural resources.
Establishing the Wildland Fire Fund, 2002
In June of 2002, the Hayman Fire in Colorado Springs tragically burned more than 127,000 acres, displaced more than 5,000 people and caused 350 people to lose their homes. Then-CEO William J. Hybl and El Pomar’s Trustees established the Wildland Fire Fund in response to this devastating wildfire. Hybl announced the creation of the Fund to Foundation staff with the smoke visible and the smell of fire in the air. At the time, this was the biggest fire in state history.
While the Fund was established amid the crisis of the Hayman Fire, it exists not only to support firefighting agencies’ response efforts in moments of wildfire crisis, but also to support these agencies in advance, through funding for proper and necessary equipment.
The Trustees initially committed up to $5 million to the effort, and the Foundation got to work reaching out to agencies all around the state and even developed a community fundraising campaign to support the effort.
The Foundation sent out a media alert notifying agencies about the availability of funding, and staff set up a phone hot line to field responses. Staff and Fellows also drove throughout the state to deliver grant checks and learn from first responders on the front lines about equipment they needed and how funds could support their efforts.
Within two months, the Foundation conducted 100 site visits and approved more than $1.6 million toward protective equipment, basic firefighting supplies and vehicle accessories. This impact reached nearly 140 agencies, 300 stations, and 4,000 firefighters and volunteers across 36 counties.
2003 – 2014
The Foundation continued to support the needs of agencies, as well as large-scale wildfire mitigation efforts with partnering municipal agencies and nonprofits. During this period, the Fund also supported response efforts to major fires such as the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest Fires in Colorado Springs.
In 2014, the Trustees allocated another $5 million to the Fund with the continued commitment to helping agencies prepare for wildland firefighting and recover from the devastation that can follow.
The Fund has distributed more than 570 grants and $6.5 million to more than 350 agencies in nearly every county across the state to support Colorado’s fire protection districts, volunteer firefighting agencies and other search and rescue and first responder entities.
As we now know, Hayman Fire was just a hint of Colorado’s devastating wildfires, with escalating catastrophic impacts from fires all around the state. With the recent Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Hayman Fire is now only the ninth most destructive fire in state history. The 10 most destructive fires are listed below, the three largest of which have occurred in the last three years.
- Marshall fire, Boulder County • 2021 — 991 homes
- Black Forest fire, Colorado Springs • 2013 — 489 homes
- Waldo Canyon fire, Colorado Springs • 2012 — 347 homes
- East Troublesome fire, Grand County • 2020 — 300+ homes
- High Park fire, Larimer County • 2012 — 259 homes
- Cameron Peak fire, Walden • 2020 — 224 homes
- Fourmile Canyon fire, Boulder County • 2010 — 169 homes
- Spring Creek fire, Costilla & Huerfano counties • 2018 — 141 homes
- Hayman fire, Lake George • 2002 — 133 homes
- Iron Mountain fire, Cañon City • 2002 — 106 homes
Over the past 20 years, the Foundation has been proud to support courageous efforts throughout the state. El Pomar Foundation is committed to continuing the Wildland Fire Fund support in a focused effort to help promote the well-being of Coloradans. To learn more about the Fund or apply, please visit https://www.elpomar.org/grant-making/el-pomars-funds/.