Volunteers donate time, equipment to haul away fire debris created by Carlton Complex Fire
By Ann McCreary
Armed with earth-moving equipment and a desire to help, volunteers tore out foundations, hauled away concrete and metal, and cleared fields of rocks and other flood debris last week in the ongoing post-fire recovery campaign.
Derek Jensen came to the Methow Valley from Chehalis, taking a week of unpaid leave from his job with a construction company to operate an excavator, tearing out foundations and moving debris from several burned home sites around the Methow Valley.
“I’m normally in the office, so this is fun for me,” Jensen said last week as he finished removing the foundation of a home that burned about 4 miles up Gold Creek Road.
Lindsey Ashford watched as Jensen maneuvered the excavator bucket to carefully smooth the dirt around the empty space that had been the foundation of the Ashfords’ almost completed home.
Lindsey and her husband, Clay, a carpenter, had been working on the home for five years, camping with their young son at the site “Methow style” as they built their dream house, she said.
The house was nearing completion, and all the finishings, furniture and appliances were inside last summer as the couple worked on completing the interior. Because it was not yet finished, the Ashfords could not get insurance, she said.
The couple stayed on the property as the fire approached, first cutting limbs and then cutting down trees around the house, desperately trying to protect their home.
“We didn’t sleep for four days. We couldn’t lose the house. By the time we were panicked and running out of here, the fire was to Gold Creek Road,” Ashford said.
Working with disaster case managers, the couple received a Small Business Administration loan to assist in purchasing a new home, Ashford said. They can’t face the idea at this point of trying to rebuild on the blackened landscape that surrounds their former home site, although they will hold on to the property.
Having the foundation and the rubble cleared away provides more options for possible sale of the property, or future construction, “and probably saved us $10,000,” Ashford said.
It’s a gift in another way as well, she said. “Now every time I go up there, I don’t feel like I have to get into the ash and trash, looking for things that might have survived,” Ashford said.
Jensen said he worked hard to remove signs of the fire from the Ashford’s land and other home sites he worked on.
“You see ash all over the place. I spent a little more time to make that ash disappear, so the homeowners didn’t have to look at it,” Jensen said.
Help from the Dawn Patrol
Jensen came to the Methow Valley as a member of Dawn Patrol, a gathering of men from the Chehalis area who meet once a week for a prayer group at dawn. Jensen heard about the need for help through others in the group who had seen the devastation caused by the Carlton Complex Fire.
Members of his church in Chehalis and other churches joined together to create a team of volunteers to help with post-fire recovery.
Last week, 56 members, family and friends of the Dawn Patrol arrived, along with three dump-truck/excavator pairs. They divided themselves into nine teams, including three heavy equipment crews.
The equipment crews spent the week cleaning up building sites by removing foundations and hauling concrete and metal away for recycling. One team, with the help of a small backhoe, removed rocks and boulders deposited by summer floods in the lower Methow Valley and Benson Creek areas.
“At $300 per hour for an excavator/dump truck pair, three teams working 10-hour days Monday through Friday, made a $45,000 in-kind contribution right there,” said Kathy Power, volunteer coordinator for the Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group (CCLTRG), which is facilitating the post-fire rebuilding campaign.
“One of the teams stayed on to finish up our last priority cleanup on Saturday, working another six hours … for land owner’s recovery benefit,” Power said.
Power raced around the Methow Valley and Pateros last week, guiding volunteers from one worksite to another.
“That was one of the biggest challenges,” said Jensen. “We’d drive 45 minute to get from one place to another.”
Other members of the Dawn Patrol worked at Alta Lake State Park, where three tree-planting teams did cleanup and planted 89 large trees. One team bundled plants for the Okanogan Conservation District’s plant distribution to fire survivors and another team repaired fencing south of the town of Methow, Power said.
In addition to the Dawn Patrol, an Amish family from Montana — a father and his five sons — donated four days of fence-building on properties in Pateros and in the Chiliwist area, Power said.
Nine AmeriCorps volunteers assisted other volunteers in moving debris and planting trees at Alta Lake State Park, and with fence building on McFarland Creek.
The AmeriCorps volunteers also helped at the Relief Distribution Center in Pateros, where about 100,000 pounds of donated clothing were bagged for resale, generating about $20,000 for the Carlton Complex home rebuilding effort, Power said.
The work by volunteers during the last week alone equates to more than $70,000 in labor, Power estimated.
“However, in my opinion all of the wonderful assistance these amazing volunteers did to assist in the recovery and rebuilding effort is priceless,” she said.
The total amount raised for the reconstruction effort is now almost $700,000, said Carlene Anders, executive director of the CCLTRG.
The recovery organization is hoping to raise about $4.2 million to rebuild about 40 homes destroyed in the fire that belonged to people who were uninsured, underinsured or have other unmet needs, Anders said.
The funds will also pay for staff hired to oversee the rebuilding campaign and for disaster case managers who are assisting people with issues related to loss and recovery from the fire.
Reconstruction of lost homes will be done in phases, beginning with 11 homes identified by case managers and as belonging to people with the highest vulnerability or need, Anders said.
“The volunteers, and their heavy equipment, are paving the way for our first home reconstruction, which will begin in the next few weeks. We’re now ready to lay septic fields and pour foundations,” Anders said.
Power said work by the Dawn Patrol last week included removal of eight foundations — one in Squaw Creek, one in Gold Creek, one on Balky Hill, two off North Starr road, two in the French Creek area, and one in Alta Lake.
The teams removed more than 20 dump truck loads of metal from French Creek, Alta Lake and Bell Canyon sites. About 65 yards of concrete were hauled out of Squaw Creek, North Starr Road and Alta Lake, Power said
The heavy machinery was donated by Bob Bozath Construction, Chehalis; Site Development Inc., Tacoma; Pape Machinery, Wenatchee; and Jerry Boes, Chehalis. Zirkle Orchards donated housing and Alta Lake State Park donated campsites.
Volunteering to help with the recovery “was unbelievable,” Jensen said this week after returning back to Chehalis.
“It obviously feels good to help people out, and everybody over there was so appreciative. I think it did more for me than for them,” Jensen said.
“At the end of the week we were trying to figure out how we could stay another week. I’d love to come back.”