Mormon Newsroom
News Release

After Severe Windstorm, Latter-day Saints Participate in “Operation Firewood Rescue" to Help Utah's Native Americans

Nearly 10,000 volunteers collect and deliver 3 million pounds of firewood to tribes across the state

Operation Firewood Rescue, an initiative sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in partnership with Utah government entities, Utah Navajo Health System, the Utah Trucking Association, Associated General Contractors and the Rotary Clubs of Utah, recently transported more than 3 million pounds of firewood to the Navajo Nation and several other Native American Nations and Tribes in Utah.

In early September, a deadly windstorm with winds reaching around 100 miles per hour, damaged homes, triggered power outages for hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed or heavily damaged countless trees and caused at least one death in northern Utah.

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“I woke up to a tree on my car,” recalled Daniel Roberts, a Latter-day Saint volunteer from Fruit Heights, Utah. “Mine wasn’t the worst though. My neighbors had a couple trees fall on their roof. A tree next door ripped in half and rolled into my yard.”

From Logan to Draper, thousands of Latter-day Saints, and other volunteers donated their time and resources to help neighbors and strangers alike with the massive cleanup.

Firewood_from_Windstorm_20200924_172306_Bell_A43I2959
A Latter-day Saint volunteer in Kaysville, Utah, cuts a fallen tree into multiple pieces on Thursday, September 24, 2020. A windstorm with hurricane-speed winds took place in on Wednesday, September 9, 2020, The severe windstorm damaged homes, triggered power outages for tens of thousands of people and caused at least one death.2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
                                                                                                           

“We just got a good group here. We look for opportunities to serve each other and serve the community. This seemed like a good opportunity to do that,” said Jason Simmons, from Kaysville.

Simmons signed up with a group of nearly 40 fellow congregants to help remove dozens of leveled trees at a local trail.

The group then cut the wood into 18-inch pieces before moving them to a county-owned lot nearby.

Utah’s Native American Community Issues a Call for Help

With news of the windstorm making headlines, Navajo Nation community leaders and residents issued a call for help.

“My sister and I have family members who are back home on the Navajo Nation,” said Samantha Eldridge, a member of the Navajo Nation who helped organize the project.

Firewood Rescue Project 2020-09-19
Samantha and Donna Eldridge (left), who have family members in Utah that live on Navajo Nation, speak to a fellow volunteer as wood donations are picked up for shipment to Blanding, Utah, on Saturday, September 19, 2020. With the news of a severe windstorm in northern Utah and cleanup efforts making local headlines, Navajo Nation community leaders and residents, including the Eldridge sisters, reached out to state government asking if the wood could be repurposed to help their communities. 2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
                                                                               

Eldridge and her sister Donna explained that after several experiences organizing initiatives in benefit of their fellow Navajos, they and others inquired about the collected wood.

“We thought, ‘How could we use that wood? We can take it back and use as firewood for our native elders,’” she said.

After reaching out to some of their contacts at Utah Navajo Health System and Urban Indian Center, the sisters’ and others’ inquiries helped trigger a community-wide partnership between different state entities, local organizations and residents -- including the Church.

In just over 3 weeks, volunteers from throughout the Wasatch Front collected about three million pounds of wood from storm-ridden areas.

“We really appreciate the Church and [its] members,” said Eldridge. “It's just been really an outpouring of support, and we really surpassed our goals as far as the amount of wood that we thought we were going to be able to collect.”

“I started the firewood program last year in October and fast forward to now [after the windstorm] and we wanted to help,” said Pete Sands, a public relations specialist for Utah Navajo Health System. “[Project participants] came together and made this happen and this is the result of people working together."

Firewood 5
Pete Sands, a public relations specialist for Utah Navajo Health System stands in front of piles of firewood on Saturday, September 27, 2020, in Blanding, Utah. Sands began collecting firewood on his own in October and then reached out to the Utah State government to get a hold of wood from northern Utah to help the Navajo Nation community. After the wood cures in several months, Utah’s Navajo Nation tribe members and families will use the wood to cook and heat their homes. 2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
                                                                                              

 Sands explained why firewood is a lifeline for the Navajo Nation community in Utah. “The unemployment rate and the infrastructure on the Navajo reservation is not that great, so you put COVID on top of that and it just decimated everything,” said Sands. “We don't have heaters, we don’t have central cooling systems on the reservation, a lot of the homes here depend on firewood for food."

In response to their need, piles of wood from storm-ridden areas were collected and dropped-off at 42 Church-owned properties and local entities, including the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake.

“The magnitude of this project is far larger than we ever anticipated and it’s astounding,” said Stephen Studdert, chairman of “Operation Firewood Rescue”.

“The unity, the determination and the camaraderie that was evident in the process is just amazing,” said Elder Todd S. Larkin, an Area Seventy in the North America Southwest Area.

“Where else can you make one phone call and have nearly 10,000 people respond the next day and then search every nook and cranny to find every downed tree so that they could prepare it to be sent to people in need?” Elder Larkin added.

3 Million Pounds of Firewood Distributed to Native American Tribes Across Utah

Once the more than 3 million pounds of firewood and counting were dropped off at different collection sites across the Wasatch Front, the next goal quickly became distribution to the state’s Native American communities.

Firewood 10
Semi-trucks loaded with donated firewood arrive in Blanding, Utah, after a 300-mile trip from northern Utah on Saturday, September 26, 2020. Seventy-five truckloads of firewood arrived at Blanding and will be distributed to Navajo Nation residents in Utah. 2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
                                                     

To accomplish the task, several Utah-based trucking businesses and organizations such as Savage Services Truck Transportation and the Utah Trucking Association helped recruit the drivers needed to complete each firewood delivery for over two weeks.

“It’s just been a miraculous project to see the goodness of the people in this community: willing to step in, understand the need of their neighbors and be willing to do this work,” said Todd Savage, vice president of Savage Services Truck Transportation.

Savage’s company volunteered their truck drivers’ time and fuel to help the piles of collected wood reach their new destinations.

“Anytime you can help anybody, it accomplishes a lot. A little bit goes a long way,” said Greg Dunn, a truck driver from Sandy, who took a 25,000-pound load of firewood, some 300 miles, to Blanding, Utah, to help the state’s Navajo Nation residents.

In the weeks following the windstorm and from dusk until dawn, the drivers of 80 long-combination vehicles such as semi-trucks and double-trailers lined up to load firewood and then made their way to drop their loads off at different locations around the state for the Navajo, Goshutes and Shoshone tribes.

In Blanding, Utah, a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City, approximately 75 trucks successfully offloaded wood for Utah’s Navajo Nation residents, the state’s largest population of Native Americans.

“Even though we come from a different background, different cultures, we can still come together and help each other,” said Sands. “It’s a great example for the Church, people like myself and others.”

Once the curing process is complete, the split and stacked firewood will be distributed to Native American elders and families at each location.

“It's a tragedy to see those trees go down,” said Samuel Alon Pugh, Blanding’s stake president. “But they were able to take that tragedy and turn it into a miracle of love, a feeling of warmth that is not just in the wood that will burn but in the hearts that will swell with love and appreciation for the people that have given the gift. [For those] receiving, the gift [will] give for a long time.”

Utah’s Navajo Tribe Members Take Home Nearly 3 Million Pounds of Donated Firewood  (Updated October 12, 2020)  

Firewood Update 2
Navajo Nation tribe members arrive to a lot of firewood in Blanding, Utah, on Tuesday, October 6, 2020, to load their truck beds with firewood. In early September, a deadly windstorm with winds reaching around 100 miles per hour destroyed or heavily damaged countless trees in northern Utah. Shortly after, the wood debris was collected and transported to help Native Americans that live in the state.2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
            

Less than a month after being dropped off on an empty lot in Blanding, Utah, dozens of Navajo Nation residents and community members from the state picked up nearly all of the approximately 3 million pounds of firewood that Operation Firewood Rescue volunteers prepared for them.  

“There’s a lot of people that were infected [with COVID-19] and a lot of people that have lost their lives. It really hurts,” said Clarence Mustache, a Latter-day Saint who serves as the elders’ quorum president in a congregation located in White Mesa, Utah, a part of the Navajo Nation.  

Mustache was one of the many people that arrived and loaded their truck beds with firewood. Once loaded, the drivers delivered the wood fuel to Navajo tribe members who use it for cooking and heating their homes. 

Firewood Update 4
Dozens of truck beds belonging to Utah Navajo Nation tribe members are loaded with firewood that was collected as part of "Operation Firewood Rescue," an initiative sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in partnership with Utah government entities, Utah Navajo Health System, the Utah Trucking Association, Associated General Contractors and the Rotary Clubs of Utah, recently transported more than 3 million pounds of firewood to Native American tribes across Utah.2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
          

One couple that preferred to not be named, both Navajo Nation residents from Red Mesa, Utah, backed up their truck to face the piles of donated firewood and wore gloves, to load it and take it home.  

“We both have health conditions but still, we have to do it,” said the husband, who explained that because of the pandemic, visiting with family members has been limited. As a result, he and his wife were not able to ask for their help to pick up the firewood.  

“This will keep us warm for the winter,” he added. “I never knew where it was from until we heard it from our friends.” 

“I think it’s a blessing. A lot of people that I know, they hauled it and they’ll use it for this winter. I know there’s a lot of people that can’t go out to get wood on their own,” Mustache said. 

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