Sid Reddy, Los Angeles, left, trims a dead branch hanging over a building and sidewalk in the back yard of Sandra Johnson’s house on Saturday while Hayley Albers, Fort Collins, Colorado looks on. (Juno Ogle photo)
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
The sounds of chainsaws and branches cracking echoed through the neighborhood around North Lea Avenue on Saturday morning as members of a national volunteer organization gathered to help a local homeowner in need.
Kelly Wilder, Albuquerque, added to the pile of branches outside Sandra Johnson’s home on Lea Avenue as she and other Team Rubicon volunteers worked Saturday morning to remove a tree that damaged Johnson’s home in a recent storm, as well other dangerous trees on the property. (Juno Ogle photo)
Sandra Johnson has lived in her home on 1300 block on North Lea Avenue for about 12 years, she said. The mud fence and the walls of the house as well as the rustic wooden shingles draw comparisons with a hobbit house from JRR Tolkien’s fantasy novels “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.
The property also contains a number of trees, however some of them pose a hazard to the home and the public. A recent wind storm blew large branches from a tree in the back yard onto the house and penetrated the roof. Dead branches on trees in front of the house are also a danger for passers-by.
“It has what we call widowmakers,” said Doug Keaty, Albuquerque, looking at one of the trees in front of him. Two large limbs broke off at some point and were balanced on another limb. “All it takes is a wind and they’ll fall and they could kill someone.”
Removing those trees alone would be a $ 10,000-15,000 job with a commercial tree removal company, Keaty estimated, much more than Johnson, the widow of a Vietnam veteran, could afford.
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So Keaty and five other volunteers from Team Rubicon, a California-based nonprofit disaster relief organization, came to Roswell to help. One of Johnson’s daughters, Sue Johnson of Fort Collins, Colorado, was one of the team members.
“We’ve been trying to do this since the day they moved in,” said Sue Johnson of the tree clearing. She said the family received offers of up to $ 65,000.
Her sister Angela Moreno and husband Robert also worked on limb trimming and tidying up on Saturday.
Team Rubicon was founded in 2010 in response to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. About 70% of the organization’s 270,000 volunteers are former military personnel, Keaty said. They are used worldwide to help with the clean-up and reconstruction work after natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes or in other emergencies.
“We are currently having reactions about the Tennessee flooding. Hurricane Ida, we’re still working. Now we have new floods in Texas. So we have people who send off immediately, ”he said.
Teams help clear debris so first responders can help people and then focus on clearing property, he said.
The organization has also begun providing assistance in delivering COVID-19 vaccines to the Navajo nation and working with Afghan refugees entering the United States
But they also do smaller jobs, like clearing dangerous trees from Johnson’s house.
“We were asked about their veteran status and it works for us. For us it’s a service project and not a response to a tornado or a hurricane, ”he said.
They called the operation “Alien Tree Removal”.
The work they did was a huge relief, Johnson said as she watched the volunteers cut dead branches that hung over a path and building in the back yard.
The volunteers cut down a tree that grows along the garden fence, cut another tree that grows in a small fenced garden area, and cut a mostly dead tree back to the stump, as well as the branches from Johnson’s roof and other branches from the tree that they had fallen off.
Team Rubicon volunteers were in Roswell this summer after a 100-year rainstorm flooded West Orchard Park and parts of South Roswell on May 30th. Then they met Enrique Moreno, the director of Roswell Community Disaster Relief Services. Moreno helped the team with this project by taking pictures of the property so they could make plans and help with logistics like accommodation.
Moreno also helped arrange with Councilor Barry Foster for a city grabber to pick up the piles of trees in front of the house and alley and waive Johnson’s dumping fees.
Two large trees in front of the property, including the one with the “widowmaker” branches, are also being removed from the city, Keaty said, because of the greater danger and liability and also because they are in the city’s right of way.
“It’s been great working with the city and we’re excited that they’re going to come out and cut these trees because they’re dangerous,” said Keaty.
The First United Methodist Church helped provide rooms for the volunteers and provided them with the church kitchen. But otherwise the team members traveled to Roswell at their own expense. Keaty, Kelly Wilder, and Dan Bourne were from Albuquerque. Hayley Albers came from Fort Collins and Sid Reddy from Los Angeles.
Not all of the volunteers on Saturday were ex-military. Bourne said he was “happily unemployed” after 22 years as a firefighter. Wilder had been a teacher. Keaty is a contractor and EMT.
Moreno said Team Rubicon’s work is very much appreciated, both for what they did for Johnson and after the local flood this summer. In both cases, he said the volunteers made an effort to work with local groups like his.
“It’s pretty great to know that a national group like this, as large as it is, looks to small local groups like ours for help and advice,” he said. “I don’t have the ability to do what you can do, but it helps you with what I can do with help.”
City / RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, extension. 205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.