Agua Dulce family shares gratitude for help in rebuilding home

Michelle Goertz reaches over to hug Todd Smith with the Department of Public Works at Goertz's house in Agua Dulce on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Smith was instrumental in repairing Goertz's house, which was damaged from flooding in late 2016 and early 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

An Agua Dulce family saw their property torched by the Sand Fire in July 2016, and then that same property flooded by a wall of mud, which “destroyed everything” the following January.

Chad and Michelle Goertz spent weeks digging out the mud from their property, but they certainly weren’t alone.

On Tuesday, Michelle Goertz wanted to take some time to show her “profound gratitude” to two separate parties—the leaders and crew for Fire Camp No. 11 in Acton, just down the road from her home, and Clinton “Todd” Smith of the Department of Public Works, Mountain Operations.

Michelle Goertz and Todd Smith with the Department of Public Works embrace for a hug in front of Goertz’s house in Agua Dulce on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Smith was instrumental in repairing Goertz’s home. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

“We instantly bonded, because (Smith) told me he went through the same thing,” Michelle Goertz said. “‘Eventually, the chaparral will grow back,’” she said Tuesday, recalling the words of solace Smith shared with her after the storm subsided. “I planted that in my head, and that there’s a light at the end of the trouble.”

Smith and the fire crew were so helpful, as was the county, in general, she said, that she wrote to Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, to see if there was some way both could be recognized for their efforts.

Michelle Goertz tells the story of how a flood damaged her home in late 2016 and early 2017 on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Todd Smith with the department of public works was instrumental in repairing her home. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

County officials also congratulated staff and the volunteers who made the cleanup possible Tuesday.

“We are proud of our county staff, Clinton ‘Todd’ Smith in Public Works and as well, Capt. Rankin and Fire Camp Crew no. 11,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, “for their efforts to help in this case and who work diligently everyday to protect life and property.”

Lackey responded with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Legislature. Goertz shared the recognition and a sentiment of gratitude that was somewhat overwhelming, Smith said.

For Smith, who’s spent the last 31 years working for the county, the last 25 of which have been in Mountain Operations, which regularly brings in the heavy equipment to clear things out after a disaster, the Goertz property was just another day in the office, so to speak.

“It is actually amazing, no one’s ever done that—it’s almost overwhelming,” he said Tuesday evening. “She made me feel like I was the president or something—I’m a civil servant, you know, that’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do: help the citizens. That’s what I do—but it was nice to be recognized for that though.”

Goertz said Smith and the fire crews went well above and beyond the call of duty to help her on her property.

Michelle Goertz and Todd Smith with the Department of Public Works talk about the flood damage that was done to Goertz’s house in late 2016 and early 2017. Smith was instrumental in repairing damage. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

The crews, led by Fire Camp Capt. Jeff Rankin and foreman Brian Byrne, and Smith, from Public Works, were integral to her family’s ability to rebuild after a 10-foot high wall of mud and debris came crashing through their home, she said.

“Since that time, we’ve been able to rehabilitate the inside of the house,” Goertz said, which was at one point covered in about two feet of mud on the inside.

Replacing the drywall and painting it inside and out were just a few of the laborious tasks to fix the aesthetics though.  

The crews regularly worked on clearing debris from the property, whether it was chopping fallen trees into firewood or clearing a larger culvert to make the Goertz property safer.

Her experience was not just about gratitude, but she also wanted to share it as a source of inspiration for others who might have similar trials.

“It’s our wish and our hope to have others see that, yes, you can come back, it’ll just take some time some hard work and some effort—but it can be done,” Goertz said. “It really has been a community effort to get this property back, and we’re so profoundly grateful.”

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