Two years ago, Laura Nasiatka, a retired kindergarten teacher who lived and worked in Louisville, Colo. for over 30 years, was finishing a stressful year. Her home had just been remodeled. Nasiatka’s father had died in early December 2021 and the family held his funeral and burial soon before Christmas.
Then the Marshall Fire struck. The blaze started in Boulder County Dec. 30 and grew massively, consuming whole neighborhoods as hundreds of people rushed to evacuate.
“Not my favorite day,” Nasiatka told the Denver Catholic. “We had Christmas and days later, we lost our home, my car and all of our belongings.”
Her son, who was visiting from out of state, drove the Nasiatkas out of the fire. All they had left were their computers, water bottles and a jacket.
“We had been in that house [for] over 30 years. The children grew up there,” she said. Nasiatka and her husband Dave, an engineer with Colorado Department of Transportation, have two adult children.
The Marshall Fire killed two people and destroyed almost 1,100 homes and businesses in what was the single most damaging wildfire in Colorado’s history.
Laura and her husband initially stayed with relatives, but the faculty of Louisville Elementary School found them a house to rent in Erie and furnished it for them. They are still living there as they wait for construction to finish on their new house back home in Louisville.
After the fire, the two met others who had lost their homes, including Deacon Dan McConville of St. Louis Catholic Parish in Louisville. As fire victims tried to recover, Nasiatka said, Deacon McConville sought to gather together the Catholic victims of the fire for community gatherings, shared meals and regular meetings.
One day, Deacon McConville told Laura that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver wanted to fund part of the Nasiatkas’ effort to rebuild their home.
“They donated enough money to cover the roof on our house,” Nasiatka said. “I love to say that Catholic Charities has literally put a roof over our heads.”
In the wake of the massive disaster, Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Denver set up a special relief fund that drew more than $1.5 million in monetary donations to Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Denver’s Disaster Relief Fund, including a $250,000 seed gift from the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. The fund has distributed $733,000 to fire victims whose assistance requests have been vetted by Catholic Charities staff, according to Ryan Sprecht, Emergency Services Manager for Catholic Charities Denver. The fund is now in the long-term recovery stage of disaster mitigation.
Substantial funding has gone to 42 families like Laura’s. The money has supported rental assistance, home construction and house repairs to address fire and wind damage to roofing or siding.
The relief fund was only part of Denver-area Catholics’ fast response to the fire.
When fire victims sought help at the Boulder Disaster Assistance Center, they found representatives of Catholic Charities of Denver hosting a table for ten days. About 250 victims received multiple gift cards through Catholic Charities there. They could share their stories and, if they wished, received spiritual advice, guidance and support from Catholic deacons.
Nasiatka found more support from her mother’s Catholic church community in Castle Rock, which donated quilts, clothes and money. Her interior designer and landscaper, both Catholic, helped design her new home’s interior and exterior.
“So again, more lovely Catholic folks stepping up and helping us out,” she said.
Before the fire, the Nasiatkas were parishioners at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder, though they split their churchgoing time with St. Louis in Louisville.
The Nasiatkas now attend Mass at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Lafayette.
Father Shaun Galvin, the church’s pastor, blessed their rebuilt home’s new foundation, and they now hope to move in soon in the new year, more than two years after the Marshall Fire.
Laura Nasiatka reflected on all the help she had received from the community.
“That’s good coming out of the bad, right? To see all these people come to your side and to your aid,” she said.
“I honestly don’t think we would be where we are at without it,” she added. “The support has been healing in so many ways. Just amazing support.”
Other help has come from the Boulder Community Foundation, which provided the Nasiatkas $5,000 in initial aid and more than $21,000 in assistance to rebuild. Some restaurants, like Hapa Sushi Grill in Boulder, provided free meals to her and her husband once a month.
Retired staff from Louisville elementary or the Boulder Valley School District would bring meals very often.
“Some amazing, lovely former students came with quilts and gift cards and meals,” Nasiatka recounted.
Right after the fire, other former students shoveled snow to earn money they could donate to their teacher.
“Those are just a few stories. If I sat down and really thought about it, I could probably tell you a million more,” she said.
Those affected by the Marshall Fire can still apply for assistance through the Catholic Charities of Denver website at ccdenver.org/marshallfire.