Local Atmos Energy crew responds for fire recovery | SteamboatToday.com

Local Atmos Energy crew responds for fire recovery

Workers say seeing Boulder County destruction was emotional

Steamboat Springs Atmos Energy Field Supervisor Nate Campbell took some photos of the damage he and two other local colleagues saw while helping Xcel Energy reconnect natural gas service to undamaged homes.
Nate Campbell/Courtesy photo

Atmos Energy Field Supervisor Nate Campbell in Steamboat Springs has responded to previous calls for emergency mutual aid due to explosions, wildfire and Hurricane Katrina, but helping in Boulder County during the past week was the worst destruction he has witnessed.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Campbell who returned to the Yampa Valley with two colleagues Tuesday night. “We couldn’t believe the devastation, to be quite honest with you. It was quite emotional. Having kids of my own and a family at home, it just made it real.”

Campbell, along with Atmos employees Tim Wilson, senior construction operator in Craig, and Chris Robertson, construction operator in Steamboat, worked 16-hour days helping to reconnect and check the safety of gas lines to homes evacuated, but not burnt, during the Marshall Fire. They had plenty of opportunities to see the homes that burned to the ground and the tears of some families who visited to see what was left of their homes.

One family in particular brought tears to the local men’s eyes as the Boulder County family was crying and searching through what was left of their home with a shovel and wheelbarrow.

“That was hard to watch,” Campbell said of the family crying on the curbside. “It was really hard to see upfront, on the ground close as we were. It was emotional for all of us.”

Atmos Vice President of Public Affairs Jennifer Altieri said the energy company has a mutual aid agreement with Xcel Energy, which called for help on New Year’s Eve, and 23 Atmos employees from Colorado, Kansas and west Texas responded. The three Atmos employees from the Yampa Valley were on the road by 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

The crews reported to an Xcel command post set up in a shopping center parking lot in Boulder. Crews were assigned to check 10 addresses in a batch, to pressure check the gas lines and advise accompanying plumbers when it was safe to go into the homes to relight pilot lights.

The local crew, in three Atmos trucks, helped at hundreds of addresses across four days. The employees worked on streets where some remains of homes and landscaping were still smoldering and smoking nearby, Campbell said.

Atmos Energy employees from the Yampa Valley worked in areas of the tremendous destruction from the Marshall Fire in Boulder County.
Nate Campbell/Courtesy photo

Neighborhoods that were completely burned during the Marshall Fire did not have natural gas turned back on, Campbell explained. Xcel Energy officials reported earlier in the week that utility service was cut off to approximately 13,000 customers.

Since some families told Campbell they had only 20 or 30 minutes to evacuate, the Atmos field supervisor is determined to have more emergency preparedness conversations with his own family, including four children ages 6 to 19. He said his family has talked about emergency plans but not about specifics as to what to take in the event of a fast evacuation.

Campbell said all of the 10 Atmos field employees in the Yampa Valley had volunteered to travel to help in Boulder County.

“The whole scenario in making a difference in communities is part of our culture,” said Campbell, who has worked for Atmos more than five years. “We take pride in helping our neighbors in need. In this case, the neighbors were more than 100 miles away, but they still needed us. Our fellow natural gas technicians at Xcel were grateful for the help.”

Xcel Energy Media Relations Representative Michelle Aguayo noted Wednesday afternoon, “Xcel Energy would like to thank the many energy companies from across the country who sent crews to help in the restoration work. Hundreds of employees from other utilities, as well as many contractors, joined Xcel Energy crews to restore service in challenging conditions. Although service to customers is largely restored, there is still work to be done to make permanent repairs to both systems in the hardest hit areas.”

Atmos Energy employees Tim Wilson from Craig (in truck) and Nate Campbell (standing) from Steamboat Springs were part of the emergency mutual aid response teams.
Courtesy photo


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