By the time Becky Jensen returned to her home in Poudre Canyon in late October, she hadn’t slept in her bed for 12 weeks.
Back in August, Jensen returned from celebrating her 50th birthday with a two-week hike in the San Juan Mountains as the Cameron Peak Fire ran east down Colorado Highway 14, forcing widespread evacuations that included her cabin a mile west of Rustic.
For the next 2½ months, Jensen camped out in her mother’s basement in Fort Collins with two cats and a dog, even as mandatory evacuations turned to voluntary.
“I have asthma and pets. It was smart to gather everything together and head to Fort Collins and stay with my mom,” Jensen said as she prepared to return home after evacuations were lifted for the Colorado 14 corridor.
It’s been a long slog, but Jensen considers herself lucky. Her house is still standing and she was able to take refuge with family. Not everyone had that option.
Unlike the 2012 High Park Fire, when the American Red Cross opened a large evacuation center at The Ranch in Loveland, COVID-19 concerns prompted the agency to pay for hotel rooms for evacuees unable to find shelter with family or friends.
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The Red Cross reported to Larimer County leaders that it has paid for more than 27,000 hotel nights. A family or single person staying in a hotel room for one night counts as one hotel night.
At the peak of Cameron Peak Fire evacuations, the Red Cross housed 1,300 evacuees in 570 rooms spread across 16 hotels and a KOA campground.
That number soared Oct. 22 when Estes Park residents fled the approaching East Troublesome Fire. Through Tuesday, 2,273 evacuees were housed in 1,043 rooms across more than 35 area hotels and two KOAs.
Hilary and Josh Embrey’s home in Buckskin Heights in Masonville, Colorado was destroyed in the Cameron Peak Fire.
Fort Collins Coloradoan
While the loss of homes is still being assessed, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office has reported more than 442 structures have been destroyed within the county.
Of those damaged or destroyed, 209 are homes — 26 are primary residences. An additional 208 are outbuildings and 17 were designated as businesses that were part of the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes.
Those who lost their homes will be forced to find more permanent housing over the coming days and weeks while they decide what comes next.
Their decisions — depending on the final structure loss from the fires — could both tighten an already stressed housing market and help a hotel industry decimated by COVID-19.
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In normal years, hotels in Fort Collins and Loveland would have been hard pressed to accommodate so many evacuees as