On Mother’s Day, Helping Fight Future Fires

Julie H. Case

Mom of many Kimber Townsend turns Sunday into a volunteer holiday with Team Rubicon.

On Mother’s Day of 2021, Kimber Townsend wasn’t with her 17 kids planting gardens at the family’s hobby farm in Monmouth, OR. Instead, she was high up in the Rockies, helping prevent future wildfires.

A volunteer of nine years, Townsend spent that Sunday deployed on a Team Rubicon Colorado wildfire mitigation operation. In 2020 the Calwood, East Troublesome, and Cameron Peak fires in Colorado torched more than 412,800 acres of forestry, killed four people, and destroyed more than 1,000 structures or homes. To help serve the communities impacted, and help guard against similar fires in the future, Boulder County convinced disaster relief non-profit Team Rubicon to deploy more than 100 volunteers—or Greyshirts—to the Mountain Ridge and Foothills Ranch neighborhoods for a weekend of heavy sawyer work, brush clearing, and moving trees to prevent floods from runoff. For her part, Townsend worked in field leadership, supporting command and general staff.  

Greyshirt Kimber Townsend and daughter Megan Stutzman.

Townsend’s 16 boys and one girl aren’t all her biological children, though three—two boys and the one girl—are. The rest of those kids are people she helped raise. None came through the traditional foster care system, but six stayed long enough that Townsend and her husband consider them permanent. Two of the pack—son Robert Marshall, an Army veteran, and daughter, Megan Stutzman, who is active Air Guard—are Greyshirts themselves.

Townsend also joined Team Rubicon because of family: she was trying to find a support system for her younger brother. “He’d done three tours of heavy combat-medic duty and wasn’t reintegrating well,” Townsend says. “Instead, I found a new family for myself that I hadn’t even known I needed.”

Team Rubicon Greyshirts respond to a snowstorm in Oregon in 2019. In the front row, Kimber Townsend is in the red sweatshirt and beanie.

Typically, Townsend spends her Mother’s Day putting in the garden or on the family’s small hobby farm. “It’s kind of like slave day for the kids; I put my to-do list of everything from tilling and pulling weeds and moving soil and planting stuff. So, it is kind of a general work weekend for us kind of our way to celebrate for decades.” This year Townsend’s daughter, a firefighter with the Air Guard, will be headed to Hawaii on assignment and three of Townsend’s sons will be working, so Townsend opted to spend her day volunteering in Colorado. And, perhaps applying a bit of her mom expertise along the way.

“I think it’s important that we recognize that our moms are there,” Townsend says of the mitigation operation. And, it’s not just the moms wielding chainsaws that day that she’s thinking of, but also the moms who are home while their husbands are deployed on the mitigation project. “Somewhere, you may have a mom and a wife who’s holding down the fort by herself while their husbands are working on Mother’s Day. So both sides need some recognition and appreciation.” And it’s Townsend who delivered that Sunday.

Kimber Townsend (in red beanie) hugs son Robert Marshall as he receives his first Team Rubicon patch.
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