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Grand Junction business sends crews to clean up after devastating wildfire


The Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed nearly 350 houses in the Colorado Springs area, reducing many homes to piles of rubble. The ServiceMaster Clean franchise in Grand Junction has been sending crews to the area for weeks to help clean up homes and personal belongings damaged by smoke from the massive wildfire. (Photo courtesy Tyson and John Witkamp)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Tyson and John Witkamp make it their business to clean up in the aftermath of fires, floods and other disasters.

They were shocked, nonetheless, by the magnitude of devastation wrought by a wildfire that incinerated entire subdivisions in the Colorado Springs area.

The fire reduced houses to piles of rubble, turned cars into charred metal shells and left victims literally sifting through the ashes looking for belongings they could salvage.

“That kind of made it look like a war zone,” said Tyson Witkamp, who along with his father, John, owns a ServiceMaster Clean franchise in Grand Junction.

The franchise is among those in Colorado that have sent crews to the Colorado Springs area to assist residents in the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Headquartered in Memphis, Tenn. ServiceMaster operates a network of more than 6,900 franchise and company owned locations offering disaster recovery services.

ServiceMaster organizes disaster responses on a national level and has helped coordinate the efforts of franchises working in Colorado Springs.

In destroying nearly 350 houses, the Waldo Canyon fire was one of the worst in Colorado history.

But in many areas, houses burned to their foundations were located right next to houses untouched by flames, John Witkamp said.

Nonetheless, many houses were damaged by smoke, and the residents evacuated too quickly to take many belongings with them.

The Witkamps have been sending cleanup crews to Colorado Springs for weeks. The crews usually leave on Sundays, return on Fridays and work long hours in between.

ServiceMaster offers a range of disaster recovery services following fires and floods. ServiceMaster works with insurance companies covering losses and served as a preferred vendor for many of those companies.

A variety of equipment and techniques is used to remove soot and odors from homes as well as clean up furniture, clothing and other belongings.

In one 4,000 square-foot house, crews had to clean nearly ever inch of the home from top to bottom. John Witkamp said. “Smoke goes everywhere.”

Depending on the extent of the damage, some cleanup work occurs on site, while other work occurs back at the ServiceMaster warehouse in Grand Junction.

While crews have completed a number of cleanup projects, they’re scheduled for additional work. And the franchise has bids out on even more jobs, Tyson Witkamp says.

While crews have endured long hours of work in a ravaged landscape, there’s been rewards in the gratitude of the people for which they’re working, John Witkamp said. “The people over there have been great. It’s been a blessing to work with them.”

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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