Remarks Following a Tour of Wildfire Damage in Louisville, Colorado
The President. Hey, folks. We're about to pick the basketball teams right now, so—[laughter]. I get first pick.
Hey, first of all, I want to thank the team behind me—the Governor; Lieutenant Governor; the two Senators, who've been friends for a long time; as well as Joe Neguse, Congressman; and your mayor and the sheriff as well.
Folks, Jill and I and my team have surveyed the damage of the Marshall Fire, and it's as devastating as it looks on television, and it's devastating—as devastating as the many environmental crises I've seen in the last year, in 2021. You know, we've had over $99 billion in loss in the last little over a year.
And you know, there's nothing so frightening, in my view, as a fire. More land has burned in the United States, from California up into the—Idaho, and here in Colorado, and parts of the South that—than make up the entire—if they're—in terms of total acreage, as the entire State of New Jersey, had it burned to the ground. Every single, solitary square acre in New Jersey, that's how much has burned.
And I can't imagine what it's like to be here in this neighborhood and see winds whipping up to a hundred miles an hour and see flames approaching. Fire, I think, is the most frightening of all dilemmas.
And you know, 6,000 acres wiped out here, over a thousand structures. But you know what I've—Jill and I have noticed—what we've noticed in other places: the incredible courage and resolve that you all show. We got a chance to meet with scores of families in the neighborhoods across the street, many of which homes you lived in. And it just is really amazing to see the courage.
And you know, there's a couple of police officers, including standing behind me, that, in fact, when the fire started, they were called in—they lost their homes, but they were out helping other people while their homes were burning.
It's a measure of, I think, who we are as a country. Homes and businesses destroyed—both a home and a business destroyed at one of the tables we just met; I don't want to embarrass anyone. But at least, you know—and one life lost that we're aware of.
And we just walked the streets of Louisville. And a whole neighborhood, gone. It's—but people here and across Boulder County are stepping up for one another. They're stepping up. I've heard stories from some of you who have lost your homes about how people have reached out, what they've done, and what more needs to be done.
But you know, as you know better than I do, there's parts of this county where people can't drink the water. Local businesses—so local businesses are stepping up and donating water—bottled water. First responders have come to Boulder County from hundreds of miles away to pitch in.
And a water treatment plant was in the path of the fire and—but one worker there, a man named Greg, barely—barely and bravely ventured back into the plant, risking his life, for a simple reason. He manually turned the valves to ensure that there was enough water pressure to—for the firefighters to be able to do their job. I mean, people do extraordinary things in extraordinary times.
Earlier today I met with those firefighters and a number of the first responders. And you know, there's an old expression: God made man, then he made a few firefighters. And there's some truth to that.
I was telling a couple of the law enforcement officers and firefighters that I was raised in a little town—after we moved from Scranton, Pennsylvania—called Claymont, Delaware. Went to a school—grade school and high school—across the street from the Claymont Fire Department. And I—growing up in my neighborhood, the kids from Brookview Apartments—you either became a cop, a firefighter, or a priest. I wasn't qualified for any, so I became a President. [Laughter]
But all kidding aside, you know, it's amazing—amazing—what people do in crises. And my message to them and everyone impacted by this is that, you know, not only are you helping each other, but we're here with you. We're not going to go away. We're not—the Federal Government's not going to go away. The Governor has been an incredible partner. Matter of fact, that probably drove him crazy—[laughter]—how many times I called him even before he called me, saying, "What do you need?"
But we're, you know, declaring a national disaster area. We're going to do everything we possibly can. The head of FEMA is with me today. She has run this show in a way, I think, most people who've been engaged in disasters would say is remarkable.
But we're—you know, we're going to make sure that everything you need occurs, including clearing all the debris and putting people in a position to be able to rebuild if their insurance provides for it, additional help if their insurance doesn't, and the kind of help they need in order to get resettled.
But, folks, a number of you have asked, as we've gone through the tables and met other people in your neighborhood is, "What do we do now?" Well, hang on to one another. Hang on to one another. The way you're going to get through this—because we've been through a few things ourselves—is just hanging on to one another. You'll get through this. You will get through this, and you'll be stronger for it.
I know my—I remember when my mother used to say that, and I'd always get angry with her, no matter what it was. This—you know, out of something bad, something good will happen if you look hard enough for it. But hang on to one another. That's the way. You find purpose in what you've been through and what you're going to do.
And, folks, look, I intend to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes to support you, your State and local governments, to help you recover and rebuild these communities. The commitment began the day the fire started, December 30, and the Governor asked me for some urgent assistance. And because we had worked earlier, we had gotten a particular satellite in the sky to be able to be focused on you all and see through the smoke and know what was going on.
Well, the truth of the matter is that the commitment began the day the fire started. We immediately mobilized the Federal firefighting equipment, satellite imagery from the Department of Defense, and additional Federal personnel to support the response.
When the Governor requested the expanded major disaster declaration, we approved it right away on New Year's Eve. And to help families directly, we surged resource support for temporary housing, home repairs for those who still had homes, and debris removal.
On Monday, at my request, the FEMA opened the Disaster Assistance Center in Lafayette, the hub to connect families and small businesses directly to what Federal support was available. And we're working closely with Governor Polis to ensure Colorado has every single resource available—every single resource available—to help keep people safe. And I want to thank the Governor and his team—and I mean this sincerely—and the Colorado congressional delegation for their leadership.
We rode out the—a number of the delegation rode out from Washington with me. And I would say—it's not an exaggeration—that they're mildly proud of their State, mildly proud of their districts. [Laughter] If Neguse tells me one more story about how great this particular area is, I'm moving out here. [Laughter] I—but—you're laughing, Mayor, but I don't think you want me. When I come, 120 cars come with me, and I don't think you need it. [Laughter]
But all kidding aside, we really can't thank them enough. And their commitment to you is strong, it's deep, and it's real.
And you know, the situation is a blinking code red for our Nation, because the combination of extreme drought—the driest period from June to December ever recorded—ever recorded; unusually high winds; no snow on the ground to start—it created a tinderbox, a literal tinderbox. And even if it was not your backyard, you could feel the ripple effects of what happened.
And so, folks, think about when the Grizzly Creek Fire hit Colorado in 2020, helping trigger that massive mudslide—that massive mudslide—that washed out an entire section of I-70, adding hours to people's drives. And you know, we can't ignore the reality that these fires are being supercharged. They're being supercharged by a change in the weather.
Not very far from here, I was—as I was riding out with the Governor, I was saying: "Gov, this all looks familiar. I've passed over that cemetery. I've passed over that area before." It was on my way up to the facility that is one of the most advanced facilities in the country—in not the country, maybe in the world—to find alternatives to fossil fuels.
You've got—by the way, if you're ever able to see it, we're going to have windmills, you can—that you're going to see that have 100-yard wingspans each—each propeller on that windmill, 100 yards long. So there's so much that is going to be able to be done.
And you know, I—when I visited the National Reviewable Lab—Renewable Lab—Energy Lab—about 20 miles—I said—from here—it's also going to create a significant number of jobs.
The reason I'm telling you this is that's no solace that you lost your home now, but it's that we're going to be able to do a lot of renewable things that allow you to not only rebuild, but afford to rebuild and rebuild better, to build back better than it was before. And it includes billions of dollars for wildfire preparedness, resilience, and response to protect homes and public resources.
And, folks, there's going to be a lot of good jobs we can create. And there's going to—we're going to do—by acting boldly.
You know, but the bottom line here is, we have to summon the courage to do something about it, to build back better as one Nation. And I got a—recovery here in Boulder County is going to take a long time; I'm not going to kid you. But we're going to stay with you as long as it takes. We're going to be here for every step of the way, I promise. And it's going to be better. It's going to be better.
So we're going to get through this together. It's easy for us to say. Jill and I have not gone through what you've gone through, but we have had lightning strike our home and almost lose our home. And we only lost about 25 percent of it; we were able to rebuild.
But you know, the hard part is the thing—the memorabilia you lost, the special things that you had put away that you lost. But you know, look at it this way: You've got a lot more special dreams to make, and they're going to be in your new home.
So thank you, thank you, thank you.
The First Lady. Can I say something too?
The President. Of course you can. The boss is going to say something to you all. [Laughter]
The First Lady. I just wanted—after seeing the devastation that we just saw in the community we just visited, I too would like to thank the firefighters and the police and the EMTs and the rescue and recovery teams for doing such a great job for this community.
And you know, I can tell—as we've met so many people as we walked through the neighborhood, as we talked to all of you—what a warm, strong community you are.
And I'd like to say, on a personal note—the Governor told me how many of you lost your family pet. And you know, they're members of the family too. So I want to just say how terribly sorry we are for the loss of your pets. Because we're animal people. So, you know, we know what a tough loss that is.
So we know you're strong. You will rebuild, and we're going to help. So thanks for inviting us here. And take care of one another. Thank you.
The President. And by the way, I hope you'll invite us back.
Thank you so very, very much. And thank the team behind me from the group that's out here to—it's represented you so well.
And by the way, the whole Nation's thinking about you. You have no idea how many prayers—how many people's prayers you're in; when I went to Mass, how many people were praying for you all. Because they saw it. They saw it on television, and they could hardly imagine it happening.
But every time I'd walk out of my grandpop's house up in Scranton, he'd say, "Joey, keep the faith." My grandmother would go, "No, Joey, spread it." Let's spread the faith and get it done.
Thank you all so much.
NOTE: The President spoke at 5:15 p.m. at the Louisville Recreation and Senior Center. In his remarks, he referred to Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera of Colorado; Sens. Michael F. Bennet and John W. Hickenlooper; Mayor Ashley Stolzmann of Louisville, CO; Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County, CO; Boulder County, CO, resident Robert Sharpe, who was killed in the Marshall Fire; Greg Venette, chief water plant operator, City of Louisville Water Treatment; and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Bennett Criswell.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks Following a Tour of Wildfire Damage in Louisville, Colorado Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354056