PNW Early Response Team’s chainsaw unit clears burnt trees for homes, creates safety zone

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(Left to right) Larry Johnson, Steve Meacham, Woody Russell, and Dana Bryson stand above Lake Chelan on a steep hillside clearing for a home site. Photo by Larry Johnson.


By Larry Johnson | Photos by Wendy Riddle

“Over 40 trees on this site were felled. Most were located directly above the area where new construction is set to begin. The trees were standing on a very steep slope. The plan was to fell the trees horizontally across the slope so they could provide stability to the slope but not be potential fuel for another fire,” shares Larry Johnson. Johnson served as part of the Early Response Team’s chainsaw unit that helped clear areas for new homes for those affected by the Washington Wildfires.

The newly formed and trained chainsaw team from the PNW Conference’s UMVIM Early Response Team recently completed their first deployment. The team was trained during the 1st Annual ERT Spring Training event held at Lazy F Camp & Retreat Center outside Ellensburg, Wash., late April. Steve Meacham from Shelton, facilitated the training at Lazy F in April and led the team on this deployment. Joining Steve on the team were Dana Bryson from Richland, Woody Russell from West Richland and Larry Johnson from Newberg, Ore. and the Oregon-Idaho Conference.

Working with Rosalee Mohney, Wildfire Recovery UMVIM Coordinator; Renae Haug, Disaster Case Manager; and Barry Hansen, Rebuild Coordinator, the team deployed the week of May 21 to Okanogan County. Their assignment was to help with the long-term recovery from the wildfires that moved through the area in 2014 and 2015 in Chelan and Okanogan Counties.

The team was assigned two sites to be cleared of standing burnt trees. The trees needed to be removed to provide a safe space for the new homes that will be constructed to replace those lost to the fires. It was also the task of the team to help create a fire safety zone around the new construction sites. By creating this defensible space it may help firefighters safely protect the new homes from encroaching fires in the future.

Some trees were cut into firewood for a resident in Chelan, Wash.

The team worked at their first site near Chelan, Wash. This site proved to be the most challenging. Just getting to the site required traveling over a steep unimproved road – sometimes in a four-wheel drive. Over 40 trees on this site were felled. Most were located directly above the area where new construction is set to begin. The trees were standing on a very steep slope. The plan was to fell the trees horizontally across the slope so they could provide stability to the slope but not be potential fuel for another fire. Some trees that could not be felled on the slope were dropped into a clearing and cut into firewood for the client. This site pushed the team to use all the safety and felling skills learned in their April training. It also presented the team with practice in using cables, pulleys, and a vehicle to move logs in a safe and secure manner. A total of 60.5 person-hours over three days were needed to accomplish the work at this site. The team was grateful for the hospitality of Pastor Cindy Roberts and the congregation of Lake Chelan UMC for providing housing, showers, and kitchen facilities during the work on this site.

The second site worked by the team was near Riverside, Wash. This site was less challenging than the first. The land here was flat with a great panoramic view of the area. The task here was to remove trees burned in the wildfire so new construction could begin. Just like the first site, the team also worked to provide a defensible space around the new home site. This was accomplished by limbing up trees and moving firewood and other combustibles at least 100 feet from the new home site. At this site the team also had the

“We were able to provide a Christian presence that allowed the client to share thoughts and feelings,” Larry Johnson shares. Training for this chainsaw team began in April during ERT Spring Training at Lazy F Camping and Retreat Center.

opportunity to meet with the client. We were able to provide a Christian presence that allowed the client to share thoughts and feelings. One of the members of the team shared this quote from the client. “Love the new look your great efforts produced! I had not realized the negative effect of those burnt bones of trees until they were Gone. Thank You!” The work at this site took 17 person hours over one day to complete. The team was also grateful for the hospitality of the Rev. Kathleen O’Connor and the congregation of the Okanogan UMC for providing housing, showers, and kitchen facilities during our work at this site.

We got down and we got dirty, but our “Chainsaw Gang” felt great satisfaction for what was accomplished. The leadership provided by Steve and the great teamwork resulted in a very successful mission.


Larry Johnson served as a listener and recorder for the team. Wendy Riddle serves on Early Response Teams and is a PNW UMVIM Coordinator.

Special thanks to Jim Truitt and Kathy Bryson.

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