Fire families find community

— Hotel rooms, clothes, money, pots and pans and children's books and toys have already come in from friends and strangers alike.

The 11 families displaced by a morning fire Thursday at the 485 Washington Street Apartments can lean on their community if they need to, Evelyn Tileston, Independent Life Center executive director, said.

Craig Fire/Rescue has condemned the apartment building.

Starla Stuart, a Craig resident for 11 years, brought into the Community Budget Center new Barbie dolls she found at a garage sale Friday morning. She planned to go back home and look through her garage, cabinets and closets to look for anything she could donate to the cause.

"They're part of our community," Stuart said. "We want to do everything we can to make sure they can get by."

At the Budget Center, manager Karen Brown has taken calls from residents who list off things - "furniture, clothes, toys, anything" - they have available. The Budget Center is also working with Love INC to stock donations specifically for the displaced families at its 555 Yampa Ave. location.

Brown once worked with a mother and daughter who lived at the Washington Street Apartments.

"It will be good," Brown said. "They will be taken care of."

Two women opened a charity checking account at the Bank of the West. Jessica Shockley was with one of the displaced families' oldest daughters when they found out about the fire. The girl's 16-year-old sister was home alone when she had to evacuate.

"I'm a mom as is, and seeing kids struggle like that, I can't stand by and not do anything," Shockley said.

Anyone wishing to donate to the fund can make deposits to Deidre Dell or ask for the fire victim's donation account.

The Bank of Colorado also has a donation account. Deposits can be made to the Washington Street Fire Fund.

Anyone affected by the fire that is worrying about their pets should contact the Humane Society of Moffat County at 870-7500, Carol Scott, Humane Society treasurer, said.

The Humane Society will work with families to provide pet food, animal medicine or anything pets need.

Tileston remembered a tragedy 20 years ago, when a 4-year-old boy went missing and the entire town worked together to search, "like you would see in a movie." She is hopeful the community will work together now, as it did then.

"Craig is a wonderful community and there are wonderful people that live here," Tileston said.

The Independent Life Center, 483 Yampa Ave., is a temporary home for the Red Cross, which is participating in aid efforts for the fire victims. Families lined up there Friday, and ate a breakfast donated by McDonald's, to assess their needs.

"There's a lot that needs to happen for these people," said Dan Bingham, Red Cross area lead. "Most everybody has one or two kids, and needs a variety of help from the community."

One of the biggest concerns Bingham has heard from families is about winter clothes. Closets, where most families keep their heavy coats, were hit hard in the fire, Bingham said. With the cold season approaching, and money limited because of relocation costs, families are concerned about finding expensive winter clothing.

Although every family had a place to stay the night after the fire, either with friends, family or at a motel, permanent housing is also a great concern and in limited supply.

"Housing is tight in Craig," Bingham said. "This time of year, with hunting season and the oil and gas exploration workers staying in the hotels, there is a housing shortage here."

That said, the community has opened their doors for the displaced families like Bingham has never seen before.

"This community opened up huge," Bingham said. "Everybody had a place to go. That's practically unheard of."

The families' former landlord, Jay and Jay Properties, which owned the apartments since 2002, is also trying to help the families find housing.

Member manager Jim Dougherty is working to find any available apartments in any of their properties around town, and is figuring on prorating rent for this month and distributing security deposits.

"I'm doing everything possible to get people back on their feet as quickly as possible," Dougherty said. "We have some empty apartments that are not available yet, and we're getting a list of those to everyone."

Jay and Jay do not have enough apartments for all the families affected by the fire. Bingham would like anyone with information on any available housing to contact the Red Cross at 970-326-8207.

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