When 17-year-old Georgia Griffis saw the damage done to her community in the wake of the Black Forest Fire in El Paso County, Colo., she wanted to help. Her efforts ended up raising $1,025 to aid victims.
Burning approximately 16,000 acres in nine days, the Black Forest Fire damaged more than 500 structures, most of which were residential, and caused an estimated $292.8 million in damages between June 11 until it was fully contained on June 20.
Although the Griffis’ Palmer Divide Ranch is miles from the site of the fire in Larkspur, Colo., they were put under voluntary evacuation.
“We evacuated six horses and packed up a lot of our belongings, but fortunately they stopped the fire before it hit us,” said Griffis.
She quickly realized not everyone was so lucky.
“When people started going back into their homes, it was absolutely heartbreaking,” Griffis said. “We were watching people who were seeing their homes for the first time after the damage. Families were going through what were basically just piles of metal. The trees were completely dead.”
But what really spurred Griffis into action were the signs posted in the debris.
“They said things like, ‘Thank you, firefighters!’ and the one that hit me most was this house over the hill, and it was completely burned. There was nothing left; there were basically black stumps and this little part of the fence left, and on the fence the sign said, ‘Thanks for trying!’ That’s when I thought, ‘I have to do something,’ ” said Griffis.
She set up an informational poster at her father’s birthday party. Armed with pictures of the damage donated by professional photographer Lee Brown, facts about the fire and its victims, and a cashbox, Griffis raised more than $500 from family and friends.
Griffis then set up her stand at the Summer in the Rockies VI Horse Show, July 17-21, at the Colorado Horse Park. While cheering on her mother, Susan Griffis, Georgia gathered the rest of her $1,025.
“The show kind of got affected by the fire too,” said Georgia, who competes in the junior jumpers. “There were a few days of really bad smoke, and there were some people who were horse showing who live near the Black Forest Fire, so it was kind of on everybody’s mind.”
Now a rising junior, Georgia is a member of the philanthropy club at her Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs. To help distribute the money she raised for the fire’s victims, Georgia partnered up with Tri-Lakes Cares, a resource center that provides emergency assistance and relief programs, with 100 percent of the money going to victims.
The program provides clothing, food, cooking utensils, eyeglasses, bedding and other essential goods. The money can also go toward first month’s rent for an apartment, new furniture and school supplies for children.
“It was one of those things where it almost felt like it happened to me because these people were local; they’re a part of my community. I just felt like I needed to do something to help them,” said Georgia.