Conifer fire temporarily closes Catholic retreat house
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by Deacon Joe Donohoe
Catholic Charities’ emergency assistance staff and parishes are on a “wait and see” status until the devastation of Lower North Fork Fire and the needs of those affected are assessed.
“We continue to pray for them and we’ll be there to provide assistance once we can gauge what assistance is needed,” said Geoff Bennett, vice president of Catholic Charities’ division of shelter and community outreach.
Parishes are gathering information on families affected and taking down names from others offering shelter and aid.
About 550 fire crew personnel contained the Conifer fire by 97 percent April 2 after fire ravaged 4,140 acres of land, burned 27 homes and killed three people, officials reported. All evacuees were allowed back home on Monday.
The fire forced some 900 people to evacuate from the mountain areas southwest of Denver that investigators say may have been ignited from a controlled burn meant to mitigate fire danger. Governor John Hickenlooper ordered a review of the fire’s origin and suspended government use of controlled burns on state parks, refuges and other lands under contract such as by the Colorado State Forest Service.
Many evacuees stayed at West Jefferson Middle School in Conifer until March 30. A few parishes are prepared to offer aid and shelter to anyone who asks for help.
Father James Baird, pastor of Our Lady of the Pines Parish in Conifer, said the parish is keeping all those affected in their daily prayers.
Light of the World Parish in Littleton has not received requests for assistance although parish staff is in contact with some parishioners from Conifer who were evacuated.
“We’ve been keeping track of a couple of parishioners,” said parish business manager Jennifer Reicher. “So far neither one has suffered from the fire.”
It’s more likely that requests for assistance will occur in the weeks following the initial evacuation, she said.
Deacon Joe and Theresa Donohoe, who operate Jesus our Hope Retreat House and live near the retreat grounds, were evacuated from their foothills property for three days and had to close the retreat house. They returned to the area on Thursday to find that their home and the structures on the retreat house grounds were unaffected by the fire.
“The houses are okay and the fire line is about two to three miles away, but the fire is pretty much contained,” Deacon Donohoe said. “The retreat house will reopen this week.”
After other Colorado fires in the past, Catholic Charities has pooled resources to supply victims with gift cards to purchase groceries and other needs, Bennett said.
“We can tap into similar resources again,” he said. “We’re just trying to gauge what the need is.”