Listed below are recent posts across all of CalRecyle's blogs.

  • What I Learned Working on Disaster Debris Removal

    As debris and ashes are cleared away, animals return and new plants spring forth.

    It’s been a year of firsts for me. As the newest information officer in CalRecycle’s Office of Public Affairs, it’s my job to tell CalRecycle’s stories. But before joining the Office of Public Affairs team, I was the finance chief for the Camp Fire debris removal project. I’ll have a lifetime of stories to tell about my work on the Camp Fire—and the first is how this challenge was the best I’ve ever accepted.

    Last spring, I joined CalRecycle’s Wildfire Debris Removal team in Paradise, California. I had never been to Paradise, but I was very familiar with the Camp Fire. Like many Northern Californians, during November 2018, I had choked on the thick smoke from the country’s most devastating fire in a century. CalRecycle is often tasked with organizing, managing, implementing, and overseeing debris removal operations in support of local governments. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived to help oversee the project’s finances, but I found a dedicated team of cleanup crews that go the extra mile to help homeowners and communities recover.

    Here are a few things I learned while working at the Camp Fire debris removal project in Paradise. 

    Results Are Immediately Visible

    before, during, and after debris removal.

    Office denizens at CalRecycle go to work every day and have a sense that their work is making a difference, but it’s rare that they get to see it in real time. During debris removal operations, crews on the ground experience the immediate changes they make in the lives of community members.

    Residents saw everything they own destroyed. Our work gives them back a property that is certified and ready for rebuilding their new life. We give them a way forward.

    We Aren’t Alone

    Debris removal operations is more than just an interagency effort. In addition to the California Office of Emergency Services, nearly every CalEPA BDO had representatives that aided with the CalRecycle mission. CalTrans, CHP, California Fish and Wildlife, Department of Water Resources, local jurisdictions, and FEMA collaborated on the cleanup as well.

    There is also a critical public-private partnership with experienced contractors and consultants adding their expertise to the operation.

    While public-sector employees take the lead, we couldn’t finish the work without the added experience of technical experts from the private sector.

    At its peak in Butte County, thousands of people were working toward a single goal. Only about a hundred were state employees. 

    “Second Responders” Are Truly Heroic

    Debris removal crews hard at work.

    Even though the work is long and tiring, the cleanup crews never got jaded. Project managers take the time to recognize their efforts at weekly safety meetings, and it’s clear the crews care about helping Paradise recover. When asked to do so, debris removal crews sift through portions of ash looking for heirloom jewelry, or the remains of a vintage blacksmith shop, or anything left of a flower pot garden.

    Crew members go beyond just removing debris and have taken to heart the mission of helping people search for their lost treasures and rebuild their lives. 

    The Environment Is Fragile, yet Resilient

    Natural disasters leave a scar across the landscape, but if there is one thing that’s clear, it’s that plant life and wildlife bounce back more easily than homes and businesses. On an April visit to the Woolsey/Hills fire site in Los Angeles County, the super bloom was in full force, and it was nearly impossible to see the burn scar from the fire that happened just a few months before. In both Northern and Southern California, great care was taken to do no more damage to the environment.

    In addition to allowing homeowners to rebuild, CalRecycle’s mission for wildfire cleanup is to remove debris that threatens public health and the environment. This allows the region’s flora and fauna to recover more quickly. 

    If You Care, It’s Worth It

    Playground and home rebuilding

    Sometimes the days are long. Sometimes your own bed and your loved ones are just too far away. But knowing that the work you’re doing is necessary and matters, gets you up the next day.

    There is a shared mission across agencies and sectors. Whether one chooses to make a career out of disaster recovery or volunteers to support the mission on a temporary basis, the experience will positively affect how you see your work and impact on the world.

    Posted on In the Loop by Chris McSwain on Dec 30, 2019

  • Camp Fire Survivor Thanks Cleanup Workers for Giving Her Closure

     

     

     

    Chris and Michelle Friedman spent this past Thanksgiving in Santa Barbara with their daughter and four grandkids. 

    “It’s good to be with family during the holidays,” reflected Michelle. 

    Last year, their Thanksgiving had no tradition or comfort. They spent the weekend lodged in Redding after losing their Paradise home to the Camp Fire.

    “Our hearts weren’t really into Thanksgiving,” explained Michelle. “We couldn’t enjoy it when we just lost so much.”

    Last November, their house in Paradise was destroyed due to the Camp Fire. Their 1,900 square foot retirement dream home and almost all of their belongings had turned to ashes.  

    “That place felt like a vacation home in the mountains,” reflected Michelle. “We really loved it.”

    Their house was one of nearly 11,000 homes in Butte County cleaned up by teams Cal OES and CalRecycle managed.  After CalEPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control removed the most hazardous waste from burned properties, CalRecycle oversaw Phase 2, clearing away debris and ash from properties and recycling all concrete and anything else salvageable. 

    CalRecycle crews recently cleared more than 3.66 million tons, or 7.3 billion pounds, of ash, debris, metal, concrete, and contaminated soil. 

    “Our role is really critical with the survivors,” said Wes Minderman, CalRecycle Engineering Support Branch Chief. “We have a displaced community, these people have lost everything, and so our role and responsibility are to make sure that we do the debris removal, but we’re also sensitive to that fact. This is for the survivors. This is to assist them to recover and begin with the next step of their lives.”

    Prior to the clean up of their property, the Friedmans were able to communicate with the project’s foreman, sharing floor plans and pictures of what the house used to look like.  

    “We knew they wouldn’t find much, but they took the time and had the concern to make sure that they were as thorough as they could be. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for. What they did was give us closure with the confidence that there wasn’t anything to be found, and that in itself is a gift to us,” said Michelle.

    Posted on In the Loop by Syd Fong on Dec 2, 2019

  • One Year After Deadliest Fire in State History, California Completes Camp Fire Debris Cleanup

    Wildfire debris removal crews.
    CalEPA Under Secretary Serena McIlwain, Ken DaRosa, and CalRecycle staff members and contractors stand in front of one of the homes being rebuilt in Paradise.

     

    On the heels of the one-year anniversary of the Camp Fire, state cleanup crews have removed the final loads of wildfire debris from almost 11,000 burned properties in Butte County. 

    Since Feb. 2, 2019, crews managed by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) have cleared more than 3.66 million tons—or 7.3 billion pounds—of ash, debris, metal, concrete, and contaminated soil from the 10,904 properties that took part in the state’s Consolidated Debris Removal Program. The program, implemented in coordination with local governments and in partnership with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, offered survivors a streamlined option to clear their properties at no out-of-pocket cost. 

    Start of Paradise Project

    Cal OES Staff and Ceres Environmental debris removal crew pose as last debris is loaded in Concow, Butte County.

     

    Twice as Much Debris as 9/11 
    World Trade Center Disaster

    The largest cleanup project of its type in California history cleared twice the amount of debris removed from the World Trade Center site post-9/11.

    “This is a story of resilience, and I am inspired by the people of Paradise’s grit and their resolve to move forward after last year’s devastating fire,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “Our state continues to stand with the communities and all families that were impacted.” 

    More than 98 percent of the properties have been cleared for redevelopment, with the remaining sites going through the last stages of soil testing, erosion control, and property inspections in the past week. After the final inspection, property owners receive certification from Butte County that their lot is eligible for a building permit. 

    “Debris removal is an important first step in the rebuilding of Butte County and the Town of Paradise,” CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said. “From our contractors to our state, local, and federal partners, we are proud of everyone who has worked to help this community rebuild while keeping public and environmental health at the forefront.”

    The milestone was recognized on Tuesday, Nov. 19, with an announcement next to Paradise High School and overlooking one of dozens of homes now under construction on properties cleared by the CalRecycle/Cal OES project. The announcement, attended by members of the media, included representatives from the Town of Paradise, Butte County, Cal OES, and FEMA, as well as Assemblyman James Gallagher and Cal EPA Undersecretary Serena McIlwain.

    Project Completed Three Months 
    Sooner Than Expected

    “State, federal, and local government collaborated with private contractors to clear contaminated debris in just nine months because we shared one goal: to give almost 11,000 families back environmentally clean properties where they can rebuild their lives,” Undersecretary McIlwain noted. “Thank you to our staff at CalRecycle and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) for your commitment to the safety of the Camp Fire survivors.” 

    Two CalEPA Departments Collaborated

    After the fire, DTSC’s Emergency Response Unit ensured that hazardous waste crews quickly and carefully cleaned up toxic substances such as asbestos to protect emergency personnel, the public, the environment, and workers involved in restoration efforts.

    CalRecycle then brought in teams of specialized contractors. Many of the workers lived in tents and trailers for long periods to prevent removing housing options for Camp Fire survivors. At homeowners’ requests, these de¬bris removal crews often sifted through ash looking for the remains of heirlooms like jewelry, collectibles, or clay that may have been hearty enough to survive the fire.

    Over the nine-month project, crews drove 305,000 truckloads of debris a total of 28.2 million road miles—the equivalent of 59 round trips to the moon. The intensive effort brought unprecedented traffic and activity to the previously quiet community.

    “We want to thank the community,” CalRecycle Chief Deputy Director Ken DaRosa said at Tuesday’s event, surrounded by the core fire debris removal team and industry partners. “We want to thank you for your patience, for your cooperation, for your support. This was not an easy operation: There were challenges; there were delays. But you stood by us. You believed in us. And you trusted us. We want to take today and thank you for that trust, that belief, and that support.”

    CalRecycle will next take on the removal of Butte County’s 350,000 fire-damaged trees that threaten public roads. Crews are expected to start working early in 2020 and continue through the fall. 

    Posted on In the Loop by CalRecycle Staff on Nov 21, 2019