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Five years on from the Black Forest Fire, a community is still rebuilding

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BLACK FOREST -

Monday, June 11th marks five years since the start of the Black Forest Fire. 

To this day, the devastation and destruction is still noticeable in the area, but one man is working tirelessly to change that.

Neil Behnke has been volunteering his time for three years, cleaning up debris and helping to mitigate properties. He has gained national attention for his efforts, but needs help to make a bigger impact.

"It's back breaking work and felling the trees is the biggest," said Behnke. "The trees are five years old, they're drying out and becoming very brittle. Our high winds are extremely dangerous and causing a hazard."

Behnke has been working together with the community of Black Forest and using his personal truck to help folks clear the area for years. With the amount of work that needs to be done, the resources he has available to him are just not enough.

For those that lost everything, like Jim and Lori Belk, rebuilding is no easy task. They said it's thanks to people like Behnke that the community is still standing strong. 

"We see the black sticks, and they're helping so much just to help people get all of their property mitigated and get that stuff down," said Lori Belk. "It's an enormous job and its too hard for just one couple."

Out of hundreds of applicants, Neil Behnke is one of three finalists in the John Deere - Small Machines, Big Impact competition. If he wins, he has selected a tractor as his prize, that would help the community to remove trees much faster and safer. The tractor would greatly reduce the risk involved for folks mitigating their property.

If you would like to help Behnke make a difference, you can text "Win 1" to 33373 or vote online here: Small Machines - Big Impact

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