Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. No stringent smell of fresh cut pine. No clean spray of chips forming mulch.
The chipper chute shot out chunks of blackened slash and branches, but the property owners were grateful to have the charred piles churned into spreadable chips.
Last October Team Rubicon, a crew of veterans who travel to burned areas and help clean devastated property, cut down the burned trees on three parcels of land hit by the Cold Springs Fire in July. The team cleaned up as much of the ugly, blackened forest as they could and when they left, they promised to come back and chip the black trees.
Last Saturday, July 29, 2017, 35 volunteers showed up to keep that promise, bringing a chipper, a bunch of chain saws, willing hearts and hard-working hands.
Jordon Daniel, the state operations coordinator said they were limbin’ and buckin’ and using the hired chipper to make the burned areas safer and healthier. As they turned up the blackened duff and hauled the slash, the odor of charred wood spread over the area. Although the burn debris had been snowed on and rinsed off over the winter, the smell was still prevalent, a constant reminder of the fire that swept over Cold Springs, Hummer Drive, Sherwood Drive and Ridge Road, destroying eight homes.
Although Lester’s Karplus’s home was not destroyed, his 29 acres of forested land has become a landscape of black and red skeleton trees and tarred earth. He stood on a hill overlooking his once upon a time forest and said, “Now I will have a pasture, and an apple and plum orchard.” All with a remarkable view of the burned area of Ridge Road.
Rubicon team members then hauled the chipper over to Richard Lampright’s property on Ridge Road.
His father built the house that burned to the ground. He was staying in the trailer amidst the devastated forest, nothing left of the house and much of the land leveled. The Rubicon crew had started chipping last October after felling a bunch of trees.
The Lamprights, after much research and soul-searching, have decided they are not going to rebuild.
“At $300 a square foot on decimated land, we just can’t afford to do it. If I was 40 years old I’d do it, but now, the land would devalue the house. We are pleased with the green we see coming up, but it still smells like smoke and there are black trees everywhere. We will wait a year and see what it would take.”
Dirt has filled in the area where the house debris has been removed. The Rubicon team picked up the logs and branches and slash and fed it into the chipper, helping to clean the landscape. Richard says that maybe his grandchildren will want to do something with the property someday but he doesn’t know if he can pay the taxes that Boulder County is levying on vacant property.
In the meantime, he is spending some time this summer living in a trailer, grateful for the assistance from the Rubicon team strangers who have made dealing with the loss easier.
Team Rubicon had its start on January 12, 2010, when an earthquake in Port-Au-Prince killed hundreds of thousands of people and left one million homeless. Two marines knew they could help and with six other veterans they raised money, gathered medical supplies, flew into the Dominican Republic, rented a truck, filled it with essential rescue equipment and drove to Haiti. When they crossed the river border between Haiti and Dominican, they crossed their “rubicon,” which means to do something that you cannot later change and will strongly influence future events; an act of winning a game against an opponent.
This original group treated thousands of patients in camps that were said to be too dangerous for other organizations. Since then, veterans have responded to thousands of disaster areas, including wild land fire devastation in the Denver area, to give assistance. They say they get as much as they give, especially the opportunity to work with other veterans who are compassionate and understanding of each other’s circumstances.
The Team Rubicon motto is “Disasters are our business. Veterans are our passion.”
(Originally published in the August 3, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)