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Fire frustration: victims ask for more help

Victims of the Charlotte fire stood up to ask for more local, state and federal resources at a meeting with Bannock County Commissioners on Wednesday, because they still need help.

Victims have no idea how to get access to money that gets raised by charity events and neither do officials. Even the people with the best homeowner’s insurance are still paying out of pocket, and there isn’t government money readily available to help. The crux of the issue is that victims need help immediately, bu,t because officials haven’t been through this kind of disaster before, they’re just figuring out what kind of response needs to be in place, commissioners said.

The discussion got so heated at times that victim Meg Allen felt the need to speak out about the tremendous cost to homeowners.

“My home is ashes and when you see everything you worked for your entire life is absolutely gone (it’s awful),” Allen said.

Fire victims were given a tremendous amount of information about accessing resources at the two-hour meeting, but when Bannock County Landfill Manager Therese Marchetti said the county would reinstitute the $17 dump fee that has been temporarily waived, people were outraged. They said they haven’t been given nearly enough time to get everything cleared out, and demanded the deadline be pushed back. Commissioners said they would move the deadline to Sept. 1 and discuss pushing it back further.

Another huge issue was a lack of funding for erosion control.

“And in the meantime, you know, yeah, we can write all these grants while our hill sides come down,” Allen said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service was on hand to say grant money won’t be available for another cycle, and crews can’t reseed right now because of the dry weather. The NRCS warned flooding is definitely a danger. That’s why Grace Jacobson had volunteers lay her dead trees perpendicular to her hillside. She thinks the response is as good as it can be.

“I think they’re trying. And as they said they’ve never been through this before, and I’m sure it’s very difficult,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson and her husband actually started the Pocatello Valley Volunteer Fire Department 37 years ago. They were able to save their home and four others.

“I’ve never seen a fire in all these years of fire fighting that spread so fast and was so vicious,” Jacobson said.

And though Allen wants funding to get water and electricity back at her home, there’s something bigger that she wants.

“Getting normal,” Allen said.

Another huge concern: the Charlotte fire was overshadowed by the Colorado fires, and that makes getting limited federal funds that much harder.

Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said there have been reports of damaged property. If people see anything suspicious, they should call the sheriff’s office at 208-236-7114, or just dial 911.

Pocatello has also set up a website specifically for Charlotte fire victims.

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