Emergency Operations team partners with FEMA, Oregon for debris removal following wildfires

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
Published June 14, 2021

Wildfires devastated Oregon in the summer of 2020. The fire, which damaged approximately 4,000 structures and one million acres, became the largest disaster in the state’s history.


Following the disaster, the State of Oregon began working with federal, state and local partners for efficient and safe cleanup of the devastation left behind.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District Emergency Operations Debris Team was tasked with leading the debris mission as part of the Oregon Wildfire Debris Management Task Force, led by the Oregon Department of Transportation, Environmental Quality and Emergency Management. 


According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s, also known as FEMA's report, from September through November 2020, wildfires damaged trees, residences and public property throughout western Oregon. An estimated 350,000 trees, located on the Oregon Department of Transportation rights-of-ways also posed an imminent threat to public facilities, public infrastructure and public safety.


Personnel from the Louisville District first deployed to Oregon in September 2020, and additional team members were sent in February 2021 to provide technical monitoring for FEMA. 


Although most of the deployed personnel assisting with this mission are from USACE, Northwestern Division, leadership and oversight has remained with the Louisville District.


Louisville District employees who have deployed for this mission include George Minges, Justin Branham, Justin Bates and Bryan Whitler. Currently there are 15 USACE personnel onsite including Roy Stone, Louisville District security specialist, as a team lead. Jeff Brooks, emergency management specialist, will be backfilling Stone after his tour is complete. Minges is currently working in a reach back status in Louisville, Kentucky, deploying periodically back to Oregon for key activities.


“Louisville District personnel have been involved since the planning stages for the mission as Subject Matter Experts,” said George Minges, Louisville District Emergency Operations chief and debris mission lead SME. “During the planning, federal, state, and local partners coordinated with each other to determine the roles and responsibilities for all parties involved. Now that we are in the cleanup, the SME’s are leading the mission and providing information collected from the team leads and reporting the progress of the mission to FEMA.”


In addition to SMEs, Louisville District personnel were also deployed as team leads. 


“As team leads, they are responsible for assigning required actions to the technical monitors in their Area of Responsibility and they also ensure that the required mission staffing is met,” Minges said. “They are the primary points of contact for mission information to the SMEs. The lead also reports the day’s activities in their AOR up to the SME for reporting to FEMA.”


The debris mission itself consists of USACE technical monitoring of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s contractor efforts that are occurring, and are dispersed, from the Cascade Mountains westward from the northern border to the southern border in the state of Oregon. USACE personnel observes these operations and verify the work is being completed per FEMA regulations and guidelines.


“We continue to partner with federal, state and contractor leads to improve mission understanding and the accuracy of USACE reporting to FEMA,” Minges said. “USACE provides specialized, technical expertise for oversight of fire-related debris operations. These operations include Private Property Debris Removal, Commercial Property Debris Removal and hazardous tree removal.”  


This year, the Louisville District also provided support in the cleanup of Hurricane Laura in Louisiana by providing technical monitors to the area. According to Minges, these roles were similar to what is being done in Oregon by monitoring the contractors and reporting up to FEMA. However, Oregon’s state-led debris removal mission is the first large mission of 2021 where the Louisville District has been the lead.


Debris operations in Oregon are currently anticipated to be complete in September 2021.