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After the East Troublesome Fire: Insurance process slows down rebuilding

More than a year after the East Troublesome Fire, fewer than half the people who have said they want to rebuild have been granted a permit to begin the process.

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. — The East Troublesome Fire destroyed Julie Knauf’s home quickly. Its impact is lasting far longer.

"It has been a long road not just emotionally, but that added burden of dealing with insurance for such a long time is taking a toll on all of us," Knauf said. 

More than a year after the fire, fewer than half the people who have said they want to rebuild have been granted a permit to begin the process. 

The main barrier slowing down the recovery is the amount of time it’s taking for people to get the money they need from insurance companies. 

"We’re a lot further off than we had hoped," Knauf said. "We’re still going through the process 14 months later."

Knauf is one of hundreds of people in Grand County who lost their homes, then spent much of the past year working to get money from insurance companies to begin rebuilding. 

To get the money, she has to remember every little thing inside her home.

"It’s heart aching to sit there and try and remember. What was in your freezer? How many cookbooks did you have? How many Christmas ornaments did you lose? Can you put a value on some of those things? It probably brought us to tears every time we had to go through that," Knauf said. "We’re dreaming about when we get to rebuild. It would be really nice to be moving in next summer, but if we can even get our foundation poured by next summer, that will be great."

Of the more than 360 families who lost a home in the fire, 225 plan to rebuild, according to a survey done by the Grand Foundation

The organization that helps wildfire survivors in Grand County said only 94 permits have been issued so far to begin the rebuilding process.

"Navigating the insurance process has been quite a daunting task for a lot of homeowners," said Megan Ledin, Executive Director of the Grand Foundation.

Ledin said the main barrier stopping people from rebuilding right now is that they don’t have the money to do so because insurance payouts are so difficult to navigate.

The foundation estimates more than a quarter of all homes were completely uninsured or severely underinsured. Now the foundation is paying for lawyers to help people like Knauf find the money to rebuild.

"We decided to help pay legal fees out of the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund so that it wasn’t adding insult to injury, for lack of a better phrase," Ledin said. 

The Grand Foundation estimates around 8% of the homes that were destroyed in the fire still haven’t been cleaned up by the owners. That could be because of a lack of funds, or people not being emotionally ready to return to the sites.

RELATED: Homeowners impacted by 2020 wildfires asked to complete survey on insurance process

RELATED: A year after East Troublesome Fire, 'almost no one' has started to rebuild

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