Like 257 other homeowners who lost houses and businesses in the High Park Fire, both are mulling when and how to start over. It won't be quick, and it won't be easy.
If history provides any clue, only a fraction of those who lost homes will rebuild within the next couple of years. Some may never return.
Only a third or fewer of those burned out in Boulder County's Fourmile Canyon Fire two years ago and the Crystal Fire near Bellevue last year have returned. Of the 169 who lost homes in the Fourmile Canyon Fire, 22 have rebuilt. An additional 35 have pulled building permits to do so, according to Garry Sanfacon, Boulder County's Fourmile Fire recovery manager. Still, that's only 57 of 169 homeowners rebuilding two years after the 6,200-acre blaze.
In Bellevue, only two of the nine Crystal Fire victims have pulled building permits, said Tom Garton, Larimer County planning director.
People don't rebuild for a variety of reasons, said Sanfacon, who has consulted with Larimer County officials on the High Park recovery process. About 60 percent of Fourmile Canyon homeowners were underinsured, Sanfacon said "all of a sudden they had less money to rebuild." Oftentimes, rebuilding efforts are hampered by a lengthy and cumbersome insurance process, Sanfacon said. Two years after the fire, some homeowners still haven't settled their claims.
Others took their settlements and moved out of the mountains, possibly buying a home elsewhere or leaving the area altogether.
Some, like in the High Park Fire, lost second homes or cabins and are taking their time deciding what to do, he said. Others are not emotionally ready to "delve into this major undertaking." Still others didn't want to move back into the black, even though the canyon is now green and lush.
No one really knows how many High Park victims will decide to rebuild in the same area, Garton said. A lot of cabins up there are built with their own money and there's no mortgage. Oftentimes they don't have insurance so they're going to be really strapped, and whether they'll rebuild because they lost their view is the question."
Schatz, who owned his home and property outright and didn't have insurance, is taking some time to clean and "let it heal up a little bit," he said.
He has put an ad on Craigslist looking for a trailer to move to the property while he rebuilds his sawmill and fire mitigation business. Schatz is pretty sure there's no longer a need for the mitigation business-- Mother Nature did that work on her own this year.
Gary Darling, Larimer County's disaster recovery director, added people may not want to move back to a landscape that has changed so much. "A lot of people moved (to the foothills) for the trees and views, and that has all changed. It's a personal decision people have to make to move back to an area like that."
Schmitz, a tree farmer, already has his insurance settlement in hand but has to decide whether to pay off his original mortgage and rebuild with what's left or sign the checks over to Bank of America and let them monitor and disperse the rebuilding funds. "It's still up in the air. I'm still sort of working through the madness, wading through the din," he said. "I've just gotta take one thing at a time, one day at a time." He plans to rebuild a simple ranch house as inexpensively as possible "to try to maximize the value of every dollar spent." Darling hopes to know within the next week how much state or federal help might be available to help clean up the burn area and to help fire victims.
Glut or shortage
If the Fourmile and Crystal fires provide any guidance as to how quickly people rebuild, there may not be an immediate surge of building permit applications from homeowners eager to rebuild in Rist Canyon, Poudre Canyon, Hewlett Gulch or Glacier View Meadows.
Local builders don't expect to see a shortage of contractors available to help people rebuild. "Not all the homes will come back online for reconstruction at the same time," said David Everitt of The Everitt Co. in Fort Collins. "Some are second homes that people will valuate and what the timing may be. Some will take the insurance and drive their trailers up there" instead of rebuilding.
With a steady stream of building more likely than a boom, there should be a sufficient number of local builders to meet demand, even in an market picking up steam on its own, industry officials said.
But there could be a shortage of subcontractors, said custom homebuilder Steve Spanjer of Spanjer Homes in Fort Collins. Many of the trades are already having trouble finding help, which has led to some short-term delays on drywall and concrete work.
Spanjer Homes only builds within about 15 miles of their south Fort Collins office and won't ramp up to building more homes next year. "We do what we can do," Spanjer said. "When our plate gets full that's all we will do. We can't maintain our standards and quality if we're jumping around like that. It's not in anybody's best interest.
Spanjer and his wife, Barbara, lived through a fire in the mobile home they were renting in 1977 and lost everything. "Having lived through fire and the heartache you go through, the questions that come to mind: Will everyone rebuild? I don't think so. Some weren't principal homes. Do cabins need to be rebuilt immediately? Probably not. 259 homes burned; 259 homes rebuilt; I doubt it. No one knows what the need is yet."
For those who want to rebuild quickly, modular homes could provide an option, said Mitch Weiner of Sustainability Living Real Estate in Fort Collins. Homes are constructed in a factory in Milliken and moved on site, speeding up construction more than
70 percent compared to a home built at the site, he said. "There are a lot of destroyed homes, but a lot of foundations are still there. If we can use that foundation we can shave four weeks off the process. If we have to build a new foundation there's a 65- to 90-day turnaround." Costs for a modular home average $75 per square foot, depending on amenities.
Even though there may be sufficient local capacity to rebuild homes, county officials are bracing for a potential glut of out-of-state contractors hoping to either find work or make a quick buck.
"It's inevitable," Darling said. The county, Home Builders Association of Northern Colorado and Better Business Bureau have all put out information to be cautious about disreputable contractors. As far as we're concerned, we want people to get legitimate folks to work with," said Dotti Weber, director of the Home Builders Association of Northern Colorado.
"People will come out of the woodwork ... that happened with the tornado in Windsor; we will have to wait to see how many show up this time."
The Home Builders Association worked with Windsor officials and the building department to make sure the town had a list of their builders to cross reference, Weber said.
Sanfacon said Boulder County saw plenty of people coming in offering to rebuild after the Fourmile Canyon Fire. "In any kind of disaster there are folks who come from all over the country to see if they can get some work or cash in," he said.
Boulder County vetted each architect or contractor who called and, if they passed muster, added them to a list of licensed general contractors they provided for fire victims.
Larimer County has a similar list.
In disasters on a far larger scale, contractors will go where the work is, Everitt said. "If we were to run out of local contractors the void would be filled in by general contractors used to building multiple homes at one time. Then the question is whether there are enough subcontractors to do it.
"History shows us when the demand for new housing increases there is some deterioration in the quality of subs and availability of them," he said. "People go where the money is. A roofer might come all the way from Kansas if he felt there were going to be a multiple number of jobs."
In terms of rebuilding, Sanfacon recommended homeowners do their due diligence to hire people they trust to help them rebuild. ''There are definitely some people who will take advantage of you. People need to be careful of that."
Recovery manager: Being underinsured the 'other disaster'
Garry Sanfacon, Boulder County's Fourmile Canyon Fire recovery manager, recommended homeowners review their insurance coverage with their carriers to avoid being underinsured when disaster strikes. Sixty percent of Fourmile Fire survivors were underinsured. "That had a huge impact on their ability to rebuild and less funds to do debris cleanup.
Making sure insurance coverage is adequate goes beyond calling your agent and asking if you're adequately insured, he said. They will likely tell you are, but Sanfacon said industry software used to assess rebuilding costs does not provide realistic rebuilding costs.
Boulder County has offered workshops on the topic that Sanfacon called the "other disaster that is sitting in wait." "You would assume the insurance company would continue to adjust the rate and coverage but they don't," he said. "It's really incumbent on us."
Sanfacon said 'The insurance settlement process has been, according to some Fourmile Fire survivors , worse than the actual fire. It's a roll of the dice and the adjuster assigned.
To find out what the actual cost of rebuilding would be, Sanfacon recommends going to your Coverage A, dividing that by the square footage of the home to determine what insurance would provide per square foot to rebuild. Then consult with a building expert to determine the actual cost of rebuilding and adjust your policy accordingly.