On Dec. 30 last year, thousands of Coloradans were forced to flee as they watched the Marshall fire set ablaze nearly 1,100 homes and businesses and kill two people. Today, almost exactly one year later, our community has been forever redefined.

To say that navigating the aftermath of the state’s most destructive wildfire has been humbling would be an understatement. From navigating insurance claims to cleaning water supplies and rebuilding whole neighborhoods, there’s been no shortage of things to do. For residents and local leaders, efforts to rebuild are still very much ongoing.

While most Coloradans don’t have to think of the fire daily anymore, for those of us who still live in the fire’s destructive path, it’s impossible to forget.

Most days, I still walk or bike through decimated neighborhoods, the blackened trees and construction vehicles offering a stark reminder of what was lost. 

Yet, for all the sadness one can feel when walking through the now mostly empty land, hope for a fresh start is popping up. 

Although most homes have barely begun reconstruction, the first home rebuild was completed and certified by local officials in recent weeks. The family will be the first to return, marking a somewhat eerie but optimistic milestone. With any luck, more families will be able to keep them company soon.

But it’s not only the landscape that is being redefined; it is each of us who lives here. Through necessity, many of us learned who we are in the face of a life-or-death crisis. Fortunately, much of our community consists of members who will instantly offer endless love and support to anyone who needs it. I am grateful and proud to call these people my neighbors. 

We’ve also learned there are a handful of bad apples. Amid the immense generosity and support, a select few chose greed over lending a helpful hand. These opportunists preferred to seek fortune on the backs of those struggling with loss. Some of the worst offenders are landlords who refused to remediate rentals or who openly broke the law by price gouging affected families.

I refuse to let these bad actors define our community. Even as someone still fighting a soulless property management company and HOA, on average, our community has gone consistently above and beyond to help each other. This is the community spirit I will choose to honor on our anniversary of the Marshall fire, opportunists be damned. 

Most of all, many “thank yous” remain in order. To the first responders, city and county staff, community volunteers, donors, journalists, local elected leaders and everyone who has kept the heartbeat of our recovery strong, thank you. There have also been many local organizations and small businesses that have gone above and beyond for fire victims. To all of the people behind these efforts, thank you.

There is also one organization that has rarely been a focus of news coverage for its assistance during the Marshall fire. It deserves to be highlighted.

The Jewish Family Service of Colorado continues to be one of the strongest allies for Marshall fire victims. Even one year later, JFS continues to offer a range of services, from donations of goods, financial assistance, free mental health services, resource and case management and so much more. 

The people working at JFS have been some of the kindest I have encountered. For many of us forced to battle insurance or landlords early on, JFS was immediately there to help. Especially in light of the terrifying rise of antisemitism, I would like to thank JFS for being such a critical part of the Marshall fire recovery. 

The Marshall fire revealed a new normal as climate change reshapes our world, yet the past year has proved that Coloradans are resilient. More than ever, I’m proud to call you my neighbors and Colorado home.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio

Trish Zornio

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio