Over 19 days this month it burned 34,000 acres, forcing residents of 2,000 homes to flee. And the damage done by Durango, Colorado's 416 Fire goes well beyond the scorched earth you expect from a wildfire. Long after the flames are out, the economic impacts linger for the folks who live there—including electric cooperative members.

That's why La Plata Electric Association is stepping up to help with something they didn't expect to do for another six months.

LPEA is reprising its "Power of Giving Tree," which was last seen during the Christmas season to assist members needing help paying their electric bill.

Now called the "Fire Power of Giving Tree," the co-op's customer service representatives adorned it with firefighting-related ornaments. Anyone can stop by the co-op's Durango headquarters to pick an ornament, each of which has a donation amount. The money raised will help LPEA members who have difficulty with their electric bill because of the fire.

"Durango and the region are just beginning to realize the economic impact of the 416 Fire," said Betsy Lovelace, customer service supervisor. "We don't even yet know how many people have lost their jobs because of fire furloughs, tourism cancellations, and reduction in people shopping locally. These are our impacted consumer-members who all of a sudden realize they can't pay their electric bills."

LPEA officials said the co-op's operations crews have worked very closely with fire personnel to de-energize certain sections of the system in the evacuation areas for short periods. That's both for the safety of firefighters and to make sure no additional fires are sparked. But unlike a 2002 fire, this time there's been no damage to LPEA's system.

"Being on the front lines every day, we are aware of members who are in need. We're concerned that it's going to be tough for some people over the coming months. We at LPEA always want to try to do something to help," said Julie McIntyre, a customer service representative. "Any amount is valued."

Arrangements can also be made to help specific individuals, businesses or nonprofits by crediting those co-op accounts.

If you would like to help, please call LPEA at 970-247-5786.

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