Watch CBS News

Colorado Springs fire survivors helped Superior town trustee after the Marshall Fire, now he's paying it forward for Maui's elected leaders

Mayor Pro Tem of Superior offers advice to Maui wildfire survivors
Mayor Pro Tem of Superior offers advice to Maui wildfire survivors 02:56

There are turning points in life and for Superior Mayor Pro Tem Neal Shah, the Marshall Fire is one of them. Shah recalled the whirlwind days that followed the devastation as the shock wore off and reality set in about the destructive Colorado wildfire at the end of 2021. Friends and neighbors who'd lost everything looked to him and his colleagues for help and hope.

"I just poured myself into this. You run into a neighbor... they lost everything. They don't know what to do and you find yourself sitting in the car... breaking down like, 'I don't know how to help them.' There's just so much weighing on you and you're just a volunteer elected," he said.

It was then he turned to Colorado Springs and survivors of the Waldo Canyon Fire for guidance. They walked the Superior fire survivors through what to expect in the difficult days, weeks and months that lie ahead, assured them that they would be okay, and promised them they wouldn't be alone.

"And that helped us... immeasurably helped us. Out of that, Superior Rising was formed. But at the same time it helped me think about what our town needs to do," he said. 


Shah is now paying it forward. He sent an email to Maui County Commissioners with advice -- one wildfire survivor to another.

RELATED: How dangerous climate conditions fueled Maui's devastating wildfires

Transparency, he said, is key, tell people what you know and don't know.

"We had daily stand-up meetings that all the community could joined in on and could see the questions I was asking... the questions others were asking and we would get great straight, you know answers from our staff," he said. 

Restoring internet service he said is critical, FEMA he warned is temporary, and the media he says can help raise awareness. Trust yourself, he told them, about what's best for your community, support your town staff who didn't sign-up for disaster relief and, he said, take care of yourself and your family.

"The stress was immeasurable. Maui County Commissioners they need to hear that we've been through this and that we're here to help them. No community should have to go through this alone. I can't even think of how more to thank Colorado Springs than to help next community," he said. 

He also warned that recovery takes time. Superior is 65% rebuilt but, Shah says, it is different. Rentals haven't returned and homes that used to be affordable are no longer after residents who were underinsured sold their lots and moved away.

"The fabric of our community is fundamentally changed," he said. 

One Maui councilmember has already emailed Shah back, thanking him for understanding what they are going through and for sharing what she called "wise advice."

RELATED: How to help those affected by the Maui wildfires

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.