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Water treatment workers from Colorado pay it forward in Maui, recall help received during Marshall Fire

Team from Louisville Public Works travels to Hawaii to share wildfire lessons
Team from Louisville Public Works travels to Hawaii to share wildfire lessons 02:20

A team of utility workers from Louisville who were on duty during the destructive Marshall Fire have become national experts on water system recovery after a wildfire. The Colorado team recently traveled to Hawaii to provide help, hope and healing.

As chilling images of the mega-fire emerged from Maui last month, memories came rushing back for Kurt Kowar.

A photo of the devastating fire in Maui that killed at least 97 people. Alan Dickar

 "As you watch that you can relate to so many things and it brings up a lot of feelings for us of what we went through."

Kower is the Director of Louisville Public Works and was part of a herculean effort the night of the Marshall Fire on the second to last day of 2021. The city's water treatment facility - located on Marshall Road - lost power. Louisville utility workers put their lives at risk to get it back online.

"We worked with Xcel Energy to bring in large trailers of compressed natural gas back into the fire zone," said Kowar. "In the middle of that whole episode of events we also let raw water into our system -- essentially lake water to keep the pressures up in the system -- so the firefighters could do their job."

The split-second decision would also allow contaminants into the water supply. At the same time, toxic gases seeped into the water through exposed pipes inside burned foundations.

"This was not something regularly understood in the water industry. It's an evolving science," says Kowar.

He and his team worked with national experts to study the unique water chemistry that comes with an urban wildfire and develop a first-of-its-kind water system recovery protocol.

"We just went into a 24/7 operation of flushing and we had support from many communities."

Having received help in their time of need, the utility workers are now giving back.

"So by being able to take that template and hand it to Maui Water they were able to do the exact same thing," says Cory Peterson, Deputy Director of Utilities for Louisville.

Kowar, Peterson and Greg Venette, Louisville's Water Treatment Superintendent, spent a week with their counterparts in Maui.

"The amount of support that we got and the amount of help that we got was almost overwhelming with how much we got, so, yeah, there was a big sense of obligation to pay it forward," says Peterson.

Kowar says they will continue to help as long as Maui needs it.

"When this disaster happened to us it was our pain, right? It was our triage. And now that you can help someone with their triage, that is a good feeling." 

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