USACE volunteers complete FEMA mission assignment in aftermath of Colorado wildfires

Omaha District
Published Oct. 6, 2022
Trudy Templeton (center), a Technical Monitor to the Marshall Fire Debris Removal Mission in Boulder County, Colo., tells Team Leads Mitch Green and Clint Fartini, from the USACE Kansas City District, that one of her assigned properties in Unincorporated Boulder County has been cleared of debris. (courtesy photo)

Trudy Templeton (center), a Technical Monitor to the Marshall Fire Debris Removal Mission in Boulder County, Colo., tells Team Leads Mitch Green and Clint Fartini, from the USACE Kansas City District, that one of her assigned properties in Unincorporated Boulder County has been cleared of debris. (courtesy photo)

Richard (Rick) Weixelbaum, (center), Mission Manger, from the USACE Kansas City District, surveys a final parcel close out during a site visit in Boulder County, Colorado. (courtesy photo)

Richard (Rick) Weixelbaum, (center), Mission Manger, from the USACE Kansas City District, surveys a final parcel close out during a site visit in Boulder County, Colorado. (courtesy photo)

USACE Omaha District volunteer, Mohammad “Mo” Mehdi Pour Nahari, assigned as a Technical Monitor since May 1, performs a final site visit on a recently cleared property during the Marshall Fire Debris Removal Mission in Boulder County, Colo.
(courtesy photo)

USACE Omaha District volunteer, Mohammad “Mo” Mehdi Pour Nahari, assigned as a Technical Monitor since May 1, performs a final site visit on a recently cleared property during the Marshall Fire Debris Removal Mission in Boulder County, Colo. (courtesy photo)

Peter Navesky, Acting Chief, Readiness Branch, USACE Omaha District (courtesy photo)

Peter Navesky, Acting Chief, Readiness Branch, USACE Omaha District (courtesy photo)

OMAHA, Neb. -- 38 volunteers from the Omaha and Kansas City Districts, including several volunteers from Portland and Seattle, recently completed a six-month Federal Emergency Management Agency debris technical monitoring Mission Assignment near Boulder, Colorado on Aug. 26.

The Marshall Fire, driven by intense straight-line winds gusting to 100 mph, burned for several days beginning Dec. 30, 2021, through Jan. 3, 2022, destroying 1100 homes and approximately 6000 acres in the Town of Superior, the City of Louisville, and Unincorporated Boulder County. The fire was finally contained on Jan. 4. According to state officials, this was one of the worst fires in Colorado’s history in terms of property damage estimated at over $500 million.

After the Colorado governor declared a state of emergency, federal aid was sought and approved via the FEMA Public Assistance and Individual Assistance Programs.  FEMA reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for support with the massive debris removal effort within the severely impacted areas of Boulder County, Colo.

This six-month mission assignment began back in March with volunteers typically deploying for 30-day rotations (12 hour a day, seven days per week) with many volunteers choosing to extend past the initial 30-day commitment.

These debris Technical Monitors conducted 13,500 site visits that provided FEMA with oversight on 566 Private Property Debris Removal parcels with respect to the Boulder County-hired contractors effort as they removed the estimated 172,550 tons of wildfire ash, concrete, metal, and vegetative debris.

“I think it should be noted that many of the Omaha District volunteers have been supporting the mission for three plus months and have extended their deployments when their deployment period was about to end,” Peter Navesky, Acting Chief, Readiness Branch, Omaha District, said. “That speaks volumes to the overall mission success since we then have limited cross-training required at the end of each rotation, versus having to cross train six to eight personnel at the end of each and every month.”

During any given month there are usually 10-15 volunteers deployed with fewer personnel near the end as the mission begins to wind down.

Trudy Templeton, a Construction Representative from the Omaha District’s Fort Carson, Colorado, Field Office volunteered for three rotations and explained that on a professional level it allowed her to see different government agencies working together in disaster situations.  

“Personally, it brings to home how quickly a person’s life can change due to a disaster, whether it is weather related or in this situation a fire,” Templeton said. “It makes you think about what is important in life and understanding the devastation that it has in a community,”

“I would encourage people to volunteer for emergency operations assignments.  It gives a sense of satisfaction to feel that you are helping people in their time of need,” she added.

In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, USACE is prepared and ready to respond as part of the federal government’s unified national response. Top priorities during all disasters include saving lives, protecting property, and supporting immediate emergency response priorities for USACE, DOD, FEMA, and the federal government.

Rick Weixelbaum from the Kansas City District’s Readiness and Contingency Operations Office provided valuable boots on the ground support as the Mission Manager during the entire mission.

“The Corps` greatest accomplishments at the Marshall Fire were the federal, state, county, and local partnerships, the ability to build on the 2021 successes in the Oregon Debris removal mission; the safety and welfare of all volunteers, automated mission tracking and reporting improvements, and the continuity gained with nearly half the volunteers extending for at least one additional 30-day rotation,” Weixelbaum said.

In addition, Weixelbaum said he also attributes the overall mission success to the great teamwork, and the Omaha District Emergency Management Branch’s oversight in helping to meet all critical needs and for there never being a capability gap.

In 1988 the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act authorized FEMA to provide for all disasters, regardless of cause. Since then, USACE has worked closely with FEMA providing support during many natural disasters including floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, and wildfires.

For additional information visit: https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Emergency-Operations/emergency_ops/


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