Usually quiet this time of week, the Louisville Post Office bustled back to life Sunday as letters, bills, prescriptions and more waited in makeshift mail boxes for their owners to come claim them.
The post office, located along fire-ravaged McCaslin Boulevard, counts itself among the lucky buildings left standing after the Marshall fire, which reduced nearby homes and businesses to charred rubble as it swept through Louisville and Superior, becoming the most destructive fire on record in Colorado.
As the sun rose over the post office parking lot, a hint of smoke still in the air, the office reopened to allow residents affected by the fires to pick up their mail. Mail isn’t necessarily the first thing people think about during a crisis, but for some who lost their homes, letters and packages sent from a loved one might be exactly the comfort they need.
“That might be the first possession, first new possession in your hand,” United States Postal Service spokesman David Rupert said.
Rupert joined mail carriers from all across Colorado on Sunday who volunteered to help the post office pick back up where it left off on Thursday before it was evacuated.
Deep inside the post office, carriers wasted no time on the workroom floor, sorting mail and parcels and trying to figure out which pieces still had a home and a mailbox. The post office, which has 26 mail carriers, is responsible for deliveries to about 13,000 homes and businesses. Mail belonging to families whose homes are no longer standing, for now, is being stashed in numbered slots in temporary holding cases made from sturdy cardboard. Fifteen of those cases line the workroom, each holding 70 slots.
Some post office employees lost their homes. For others spared by the firestorm, the toll still takes a personal tone.
Wes Maynard, a postal carrier in Louisville, has been on the job for seven years – four of them on his current route that winds through neighborhoods near the Louisville Recreation and Senior Center and the Louisville Police Department. He makes about 600 deliveries total on his route. The Marshall fire devoured 200 of the homes that have become a part of his daily life.
“I know all the families and they have been incredibly kind to me,” Maynard said as he loaded a truck behind the post office with mail to bring to homes still intact.
As they reel from so much loss, he hopes to offer back the same kind of compassion those families showed him as he made deliveries, day after day, during the uncertainty of the pandemic. His customers have become friends, he said. “There are kids that follow me around while I’m delivering the mail and talk to me,” said Maynard, who lives in Westminster.
He reported to work Sunday morning hoping to ease the hardship of the families along his route.
“I just want to do what I can for the people that have been so kind to me, and it seems like the least I can do is making sure that getting their mail – and especially the important things that come – is organized and is not an additional burden for them,” he said.
Postmaster Robin Terneus, who also lives in Westminster, emphasized how tightly woven postal carriers are into their communities.
“Many of my carriers are devastated and are doing anything they can do to get out here and help the people that they’ve gotten to know for so many years,” she said. “They’ve made friends out there if they’ve had a route for a while.”
Throughout the day, she will work with her staff to assess the damage in their community and pinpoint the places where they can still deliver mail.
“We’ll just have a better idea of what can be delivered, what can’t be and what needs to be held,” Terneus said.
The post office will be open until 5 p.m. Sunday and will reopen 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day this week, Rupert said. As families find temporary housing and make accommodations to piece their lives back together, the post office will work with them to redirect their mail, he said.
He noted how fortunate the post office is to have survived such devastation. Still, hints of the fire are scattered throughout the building, with ash and soot coating the lobby floors. Volunteers worked to sweep it up on Sunday in between their other tasks after employees completed a “deep clean,” he said.
Some of those volunteers – who came from places like Fort Morgan, Durango and Colorado Springs – have already faced the same sense of loss from wildfires that those they’re helping are. Rupert sees it as “a way of giving back” on a day they would typically take off.
“It’s a Sunday, but that doesn’t mean anything to us,” Rupert said. “We know how important this is.”