Last updated 11:30PM ET
December 14, 2017
KSUT Regional
KSUT Regional
Fund To Help Fire Victims Grows
(2008-03-03)
(ksut) - HOST LEAD: Demolition could begin this week on three Durango Main Avenue businesses that burned February 22nd.
Simultaneously, applications for assistance for workers displaced by the blaze are now being accepted.
KSUT's Victor Locke reports.

KAREN BARGER: OBVIOUSLY BEEN VERY SURREAL TO THINK THAT THE PLACE WHERE YOU'RE WORKING ONE MINUTE SEEMS FINE AND THEN A FEW HOURS LATER, THERE'S NOT VERY MUCH LEFT STANDING, IS A LITTLE TRAUMATIZING AT TIMES.
ERIC KIESEL: I CAN'T BELIEVE IT TURNED INTO THIS FROM THAT LITTLE TINY FIRE I SAW BACK THERE ON THE ROOF. THE OUTPOURING FROM THE COMMUNITY HAS BEEN AMAZING. I'VE HAD PEOPLE THAT DON'T EVEN KNOW ME HUG ME ON THE STREET AND TELL ME HOW SORRY THEY ARE FOR ME.
Standing behind their burned out businesses last week, Seasons Rotisserie and Grill owner Karen Barger and Half Price Tees owner Eric Kiesel and his wife Kay talked about putting their lives and businesses back together, following the the February 22nd blaze which also destroyed Le Rendevous Swiss Bakery and Cafe.
They talked about their feelings, the community's response, their plans for the future, and the hope that rebuilding businesses in Historic Downtown Durango won't take so long it drives them away.
Barger, a member of the Durango Business Improvement District, or BID board, says she's committed to staying there.
BARGER: THE BEAUTY OF LOOKING DOWN THE STREET RIGHT NOW IS, IT'S A LITTLE BIT ECLECTIC, A LITTLE BIT OF THINGS BUILT FROM DIFFERENT TIMES, SOME ADDITIONS AND SOME REMODELS, AND WE HOPE WE CAN JUST BLEND RIGHT IN NICELY WITH THAT. I'D LOVE TO STAY IN THIS LOCATION, THERE'S NOTHING LIKE DOWNTOWN MAIN STREET. THERE'S JUST A COUPLE OF MISSING TEETH RIGHT NOW, SO WE'D LIKE TO BE SURE WE PUT THE BIG SMILE BACK TOGETHER. WE'RE ALREADY IN THE PLANNING STAGES, AS DIFFICULT AS IT IS TO SEE THIS BURNED MESS THAT WE HAVE HERE, WE REALLY WANT TO BE BACK AND OPERATIONAL IN DOWNTOWN DURANGO AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.
Kiesel will reopen the custom embroidering and print side of Half Price Tee's wherever he can find space, but says he wants to stay downtown as well, and called his landlord, Barry Mason, one of the greatest guy's he's ever met.
KIESEL: AND HE MET ME DOWN HERE AT EIGHT O'CLOCK THE NEXT MORNING AND LOOKED AT ME AND SAID I DON'T WANT YOU TO WORRY ABOUT A THING, WE'RE GOING TO REBUILD, WE'RE GOING TO REBUILD BIGGER AND BETTER THAN EVER BEFORE, AND WE'RE JUST GOING TO FIGURE OUT HOW WE GET YOU THROUGH THE NEXT YEAR, YEAR AND A HALF PROCESS OF GETTING THIS REBUILT.
ERIC KIESEL: THE ONLY THING THAT FRUSTRATED ME ABOUT THE FIRE WHEN I SAW IT THE NEXT DAY WAS THAT THE ONLY THING THAT SURVIVED WAS THE HISTORICAL FRONT DOOR WHICH I HATED FROM THE TIME THAT I PURCHASED THE BUSINESS BECAUSE I HAD TO FIX IT PROBABLY TEN TIMES AND EVERY TIME I FIXED IT SOMETHING ELSE BROKE ON IT, IT WAS HEAVY, PEOPLE SLAMMED IT, AND IT HIT 'EM WHEN THEY CAME IN AND OF COURSE, I COME BACK AND FIND MY ENTIRE BUILDING BURNED TO THE GROUND BUT THERE'S THE PURPLE DOOR STARING ME IN THE FACE, THE ONLY THING STANDING IN THE DOOR FRAME.
KAY KIESEL: IT WASN'T A VERY GOOD DOOR AND IT WAS EXTREMELY OLD. I'M NOT SURE IT WAS THE ORIGINAL DOOR, IT WAS MADE OF PLANKS, IT WAS VERY OLD, AND IT SURVIVED.
Kay Kiesel and Season's Karen Barger say they hope to rebuild quickly.
KAY KIESEL: TIMING IS EVERYTHING. YOU ONLY HAVE SO MUCH TIME TO HOLD ON AND THEN THERE'S A PERIOD OF TIME WHERE YOU'RE LIKE, OKAY, WHAT DO WE DO NOW. IF IT'S GOING TO BE ABOUT A YEAR, WE'RE GOOD IF IT'S WITHIN A YEAR, IF IT'S TWO YEARS, IT'S GOING TO BE A LOT TOUGHER FOR US, FINANCIALLY.
BARGER: THE ORIGINAL OPENING DATE OF SEASONS WAS THE WINTER SOLSTICE OF 1994 AND NOTHING WOULD GIVE ME GREATER PLEASURE THAN TO SEE THIS OPEN ON THE WINTER SOLSTICE OF 2008. I REALIZE ON ONE HAND THAT SOUNDS LIKE A CONSTRUCTION NIGHTMARE, BUT I KNOW THAT CAN BE DONE.
It's now estimated the fires left about 60 people jobless, down from earlier estimates of 100.
About two dozen have already sought help from the so called, "700 Main Disaster Relief Fund" established by BID, United Way, Red Cross, the Restaurant Association, LPEA Foundation and managed by the Community Foundation of Southwest Colorado.
Lon Erwin, the Foundations Executive Director, says as of late last week 29-thousand dollars had been donated to the fund from 75 donors, and more was expected with a major fundraiser scheduled later this month.
The fund will provide short term help to displaced workers who apply.
ERWIN: WE'RE GONNA USE LIKE GIFT CARDS FROM A CITY MARKET, A LOCAL GAS STATION GIFT CARD, AND CREDIT AT A UTILITY. IT'S TO HELP THEM BRIDGE BETWEEN WHEN THEY LOST THEIR JOB, OUR ASSUMPTION IS A LOT OF THEM WILL BE TAKING OTHER JOBS, THERE'S INSURANCE AT PLAY, EVENTUALLY THERE MAY BE UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE, AND THEN THERE ARE OTHER RESOURCES IN THE COMMUNITY AS WELL.
If funds are left over, Erwin says they'll be kept for future disaster aid.
ERWIN: OUR HOPE IS WE CAN CONTINUE THIS EMERGENCY FUND AND THAT WE CAN GROW IT, WE CAN INVEST IT AND IT WILL BE AVAILABLE IMMEDIATELY INSTEAD OF US HAVING TO CREATE IT AGAIN.
More information about the fund and an application for assistance can be found online at downtowndurango.org.
Though no exact cause of the fire has been determined yet, it's believed it started in a kitchen venting system, at Seasons.
Nine firefighters hurt in the firefight, are recovering.
Barger remains optimistic, downtown will recover as well.
BARGER: WE NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT WE CONTINUE TO MOVE FORWARD AND NOT BE DAUNTED BY THE FACT THAT WE HAVE THREE BUSINESSES THAT ARE TRYING TO PUT EVERYTHING BACK TOGETHER.
From KSUT, Four Corners Public Radio, I'm Victor Locke.
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