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National Service Battles Colorado Wildfires

by Samantha Jo Warfield

Recent wildfires have threatened communities across Colorado and the Southwest and national service has been working day and night to help put out the flames and support survivors.

More than 175 AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers have joined the response effort in Colorado, working with fire crews on the front lines, operating evacuation shelters, and managing volunteers and donations.

The wildfires that burned near Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Leadville, and Boulder forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and in many locations, the flames are just now being tamed. Fires across the Southwest have charred hundreds of thousands of acres and dry conditions allow fires to flourish.

AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members are working long hours in coordination with federal, state and local officials and nonprofit organizations. AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) teams have deployed in response to the Lost Turtle, Webber, Pole Creek, and Lost Mountain fires near Lake George; Treasure fire in Leadville; High Park fire in Fort Collins, and the rapidly spreading Waldo Canyon fire in the Colorado Springs area.

On the ground since the beginning of June, NCCC members have tackled wildland firefighting tasks such as structure protection, creation of fire lines, cold trailing, and mop-up activities. The AmeriCorps members have also provided direct service to Colorado residents by joining evacuation and sheltering efforts, leading volunteer and donation centers, and providing casework services and call center support.

“It is a community effort, working hand-in-hand with first local responders to plan the best course of action to prevent the fire from spreading,” said Stephen Packard, an AmeriCorps NCCC Team Leader fighting the Waldo Canyon Fire since Saturday. “It's such a great feeling when you talk someone whose house you saved. All those blood, sweat, and tears are worth it when you see the joy in a homeowner's eyes as they thank you for your work.”

Packard's team has been working with the El Paso Sheriff's Department, providing structure protection, cutting down trees, and removing brush in attempt to save homes and contain the fires. After his AmeriCorps service ends in July, Packard intends to pursue a career in wildfire firefighting.

Approximately 15% of AmeriCorps NCCC members are trained in fire management and mitigation. Through grueling physical training and vigorous testing, members receive the Wildland Fire Red Card certification and are prepared to aide first responders with battling wildfires.

For those interested in assisting those affected by the wildfires in Colorado, please visit:http://www.helpcoloradonow.org/. There, the Colorado Division of Emergency Management and Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster identify the means through which citizens can best support wildfire response and recovery.

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