In the aftermath of the Columbia shuttle tragedy in 2003, an army of forestry workers and volunteers from all over the country converged on East Texas, and hundreds of volunteers from area police and fire departments.
Hundreds of East Texas police and firefighters volunteered during the massive search of huge tracks of land after Columbia went down.
"We had gotten toned out to an unknown explosion on the west side of town, we got back from that, 5 minutes later we find out Columbia had gone down," says Longview firefighter Erasmo Lopez, who was on duty when the shuttle went down.
Judson Metro VFD chief Mike Fennel was with Longview fire in 2003 , and had the grim job of recovery afterwards.
"I was sitting at my house , drinking coffee, heard a loud explosion. Little did I know at the time that our lives here had just been changed. They asked guys who had 4 wheelers any of the fireman that were law enforcement officers anything like that. We sent about 15, 20 firefighters," Fennell says.
It was a job that haunts Fennell to this day. Walking on ground that contained clues to what happened the shuttle astronauts.
"We knew kind of what we were looking for and it was very solemn," says Fennell.
For months they combed forests, meadows and briar thickets.
"Might be as small as the end of a pencil or as large as the roof of a car," he says.
And memories that will never go away.
"As long as I live , I'll always remember that," Lopez says.
During the height of the Columbia recovery effort, whole departments volunteered from all over East Texas to pitch in, many running on skeleton crews to allow their personnel to help.
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