(12/13)

The documentary series exploring the work of lumberjacks in the remote forests of the Pacific Northwest continues. This week, the storm continues to rage through Oregon, putting lives in danger and threatening logging fortunes. When the rain finally stops, the heartache begins as the axe men learn the true extent of the damage to their community.

In just three days, the storm of the century has seen the rivers of Oregon swell some ten feet above flood stage. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, 13 lives have been lost and the toll continues to rise. In Vernonia, Stump Branch loader operator Donald battles Mother Nature as rising waters overtake his house. Heading back to his home, he strives to salvage what he can. “I’ve got to rescue the little kitty cats,” he says. “The rest will have to fend for itself.”

Meanwhile, Melvin and the rest of the Stump Branch boys make another attempt to reach the job site and their stranded equipment. But as he and the crew make their way to Round Top mountain, the extent of the storm damage becomes clear. While some roads are closed owing to high waters and fallen trees, others have been completely washed away. After making a big detour to avoid closed highways, Melvin encounters a huge gully where a logging road used to be. With no way for Melvin to reach his valuable machines, the future of his company is under serious threat. “We’re talking months of road building here,” he says. “This is screwed up.”

On the way back to town, the devastation is overwhelming. The Nehalem River has burst its banks, sending water flooding into the streets and homes of Vernonia. Melvin’s first stop is the Davis house where a logging family is in trouble. Eric is Melvin’s man in the rigging, while his younger brother Cody works for the Pihl company with his father, Earl. When Melvin arrives, the three loggers are picking up the pieces of their home. “This is not supposed to happen for another 50 years,” says Eric of the storm. The flood has cost the family almost everything, but in this close-knit community, everyone comes together to help with the cleanup.

Outside of town, Darrell Holthusen calls an emergency meeting with the Gustafson crew. With completion of the Challenge site now impossible, the men’s goal is to retrieve their machinery – worth around $1.5million – from Buck Mountain. “We have an absolute disaster on the horizon,” says Darrell. “The devastation is incredible.” As he and his men make their way up the winding roads, a big mud slide blocks their path. A county tractor is struggling to clear the road, until a twisted stack of collapsed trees brings the operation to a standstill. Now, only manpower and chainsaws can clear the way forward – but the tangled mess of logs throws up all kinds of hidden dangers. “We’ve got our work cut out for us,” says Darrell.

After an entire day spent cutting a path up the mountain, Darrell and his men are closer to their equipment and feeling happy with the progress they have made. “I’m feeling a lot better about things now,” says Darrell as he heads for home. However, nothing can prepare him for what he finds the following morning.

As the storm finally subsides, the unruly members of the Pihl crew try again to get to the potentially lucrative Beaver site. “Here we are,” says experienced cutter Dwayne. “Round two!” When they do arrive, however, raising the skyline amidst the tangled undergrowth provides another challenge. But these men are determined to get back to work. Six hours after arriving on site, the path is cleared and work can begin. With all that these men have been through in the past few days, the first turn of the yarder is very significant. “We’re finally logging Beaver!” shouts Dwayne.

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