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Volunteers Join Marshall Fire Victims to Sift Through Ashes

By Lisa Nicklanovich; photo courtesy of Fred Lautenbach

A group from Foundry Church in Castle Pines volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse at the Marshall Fire burn site in late January. Fred Lautenbach (far right) coordinated the group, including the Thelander family (Julie is in the front). The group wore Tyvek suits and N95 masks as they sifted through what was left of people’s homes trying to find anything of value for the homeowners.

A group from Foundry Church in Castle Pines headed north in late January and spent the day at the Marshall Fire burn area. Fred Lautenbach, Missions Coordinator at Foundry, coordinated the event through Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian relief organization.

After safety training, the volunteers were dispersed to specific homesites in the area to sift through the debris in an attempt to find anything of value for the homeowners who were present.

“I’d seen the news reports but it doesn’t prepare you for it. It’s just devastation. An unreal landscape,” said Julie Thelander, who volunteered with the Foundry group along with her husband, Erik, and sons Weston and Jonas. Wearing Tyvek suits and N95 masks, the team worked with a few homeowners to find anything in the ashes.

Julie described the scene as blackened trees with limbs frozen sideways, burned-out cars and house foundations. The volunteers used a ladder to descend into what was a home’s basement or the foundation, where everything had burned and fallen into.

In ash to their knees, the volunteers sifted with tools after they had removed large metal items such as mattress box springs and appliances. “This is somebody’s life in ashes,” Julie said. “It’s hard work; it’s emotional,” she added.

The team found some jewelry, a tea kettle, tiles, and pottery among other items. Julie said, “It buoys your spirits a bit when you find a piece of their old life.”

Julie shared that it was powerful to spend time with the homeowners and hear their stories; many had to flee their homes in moments, some scooping up their children and scrambling out without shoes. “Standing there in this burned-out landscape with gorgeous majestic views of the mountains; it’s breathtaking,” Julie said. Some homeowners said they will definitely rebuild on their homesite; others are not sure.

Weston (17) and Jonas (15) Thelander volunteered at the Marshall Fire burn area to help homeowners find any personal belongings left in the ashes.

One homeowner was hoping to find two wedding rings and a string of pearls. “We never found those rings, but with the last shovel of ash of the day, a metal box was found that contained the pearls. The string had disintegrated but the pearls were there. Upon touching a pearl, it disintegrated. Even so, the homeowner was touched and moved to have found something he had looked for.”

The Thelander family stayed at the site until the sun went down. “We were overwhelmed in the car ride home trying to imagine what it would be like. For me, it’s just a keen awareness that the most important things we have are not things,” Julie said.

To volunteer, visit To make a financial contribution, visit the Community Foundation Boulder County at



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