Taking out blackwood

rubicon-blonde-with-dark-hairBarbara Lawlor

The work crew walked out of the blackened forest, the spears of charred pines piercing the deep blue sky behind them. Their hard hats hung from their hands, leaving a white band of forehead above their soot covered cheeks, rivulets of sweat dripping off their chins.

The most notable feature on these amazing workers were the smiles that lit up their tarnished faces: they exuded the feeling of a job well done, the pride of accomplishment.

Actually, they weren’t done yet. When they reached headquarters, they spread tarps on the ground and got out their rags and oil and sharpeners and performed the necessary daily task of tending to their tools, their chain saws.

Almost 50 volunteers showed up at the Cold Springs Fire burn area last weekend, ready to spend each day cutting down the standing blackwood that was still usable as firewood. Not only were they getting rid of imminent danger from falling burnt trees, they were cutting up about 100 cords of wood that will help some families get through the winter.

The workers were made up of men and women, many of them veterans, others just wanting to serve with Team Rubicon, a regional and national domestic disaster response organization. Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy disaster response teams, free of charge, to communities affected by disaster. Over 20,000 volunteers are ready to go where they are needed.


Incident Management, Debris Management, Expedient Home Repair, Spontaneous Volunteer Management and Hazard Mitigation are among their specialties. On Saturday and Sunday their goal was to get rid of the hazardous burnt trees that jutted out of the ash covered earth in the Sherwood Road area and in other properties on Ridge Road. Much of the property they worked on belongs to Les Karplus, who has been hiring crews all summer to clear the fire debris, but it has barely put a dent in the dozens of acres filled with black and grey ruins.

Fortunately, post-fire weather hasn’t included heavy rainstorms that would have begun the erosion and flooding potential that usually follows a forest fire.

Along with helping communities in need, Team Rubicon also helps “Bridge the Gap,” for veterans returning from their tours overseas. It is difficult to leave the military environment and be plunged back into civilian life, to wake up to a day that isn’t organized and filled with things that need to be done, and that you are held responsible for doing.

It is also disconcerting to no longer be serving others, accomplishing deeds that contribute to the welfare of the whole community, be it a military unit, a law enforcement team or a neighborhood that has been impacted by natural forces.

Dennis Sauter is a police officer in Arvada who became a member of Team Rubicon about three years ago. He says a Navy veteran friend told him about TR and he joined up and has been all over the country helping others ever since then.

“I spend my vacation time doing mission work. I have a heart for service. It is fun to get out and enjoy the fellowship of others who are all here for the same reason, to help people in the community. “

Dennis says his team is the strike team, the Alpha team. Another unit is the operation Grandpa Bredo team. A sense of humor is a must among these workers.


Jordan Daniel says much work is accomplished because everyone understands military speak, the brisk concise commands that tell the workers exactly what is coming next, where it is and what time it will occur. Jordan has been with the group since it began with four people. Now there are 200. In the wake of the Haiti hurricane, president Obama talked about Team Rubicon and the tremendous job they did in recovery.

“That sounded right up my alley,” says Jordan. “I would much rather be with these people, doing this, than sitting around a football game on television. We are used to being around military people, a military community and doing this helps us get through the adjustment. It is a reintegration step back into the civilian community.”

Working on the Cold Springs fire was a type 5, or the smallest kind of disaster. The group expects they will be heading to the East Coast for their next adventure.

The workers camped out on the land and various local agencies and churches brought in food for the teams. Showers in bags were available, but many of the crew cleaned up at the Nederland Fire Protection District department.

At the end of the day, the crews are physically exhausted but also mentally and spiritually energized, knowing the world was changed for the better because they woke up in it.

Team Rubicon accomplished a lot, but Les’s road is still lined with piles of blackwood. Cleaning up after a forest fire isn’t a summer project. It may take years and perhaps the Rubicon team will return.

Les says, “While it was quite a relief to get the house back in order after the Cold Springs fire, facing the challenge of 22 acres of burned forest was quite daunting. Having some help from Team Rubicon was the best relief we have had since the fire.”

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.