"You Helped Us Rebuild this Community." Says CalRecycle Chief Deputy Director Ken DaRosa, One Year After the Fire
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. CalRecycle-managed crews removed the last load of structural debris from the Camp Fire site in Butte County on November 6, 2019, just shy of the one-year anniversary of California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire. At a November 19 event in Paradise, with a backdrop of one of the homes already being rebuilt, CalRecycle Chief Deputy Director Ken DaRosa spoke on behalf of the staff.
Good morning everyone. I’m Ken DaRosa with CalRecycle. If you’ll indulge me a moment I’m going to read this passage here.
“And now the sun with more effectual beams
Had cheered the face of earth and dried the wet
From drooping plant, or dropping tree: the birds,
Who all things now behold more fresh and green,
After a night of storm so ruinous,
Cleared up their choicest notes in bush and spray,
To rejoice the sweet return of morning.”
That’s a passage from John Milton and Paradise Regained.
I want to amplify [FEMA Region 9 Director] Bob [Fenton]’s closing point, and acknowledge the work of our partners at the Department of Toxic Substances Control. In this process they are phase one. They are the tip of the spear that sets the pace for this cleanup. They come in and remove the gross hazards that are there, moving us then to phase two.
You’re familiar with the numbers. I’m not going to go into a great level of detail about them because you’ve heard a lot about them, but it is a significant effort. And I think it’s important, again, to amplify a point that was made just a moment ago. Yes, we did finish this within nine months, well ahead of schedule, but in no way and at no time did we compromise the public health, safety, and environmental objectives that we use and that guide us through this process. We come in; we remove the metals, the ash and debris; we scrape the soil; we test that soil; we confirm that it is clean. We leave a clean parcel, that now a resident has the decision to make: whether they return or whatever next choice the are going to make. But we deliver that consistently every single time.
But I also want to talk about the compassion and the empathy demonstrated by the teams here today: their commitment to getting this work done. They cared about delivering this operation—all of them. Public sector and private sector. Behind me I am joined by some of my very dear colleagues who have been part of this including: Stephen Eto, Lisa Garner, Andy Marino, Chris McSwain, Jarrod Ramsey-Lewis, Todd Thalhamer, Pauline Totten, Anthony VanderSchaaf, Luke Wainscott, Alan Zamboanga, and Candice Houghton. And I also want to acknowledge Serena McIlwain from CalEPA who is here today. We couldn’t have done this without them and a couple dozen other people who are back at the house doing contract management, invoice review. It is a tribal effort to make this happen. It is a community effort to make this happen.
I also need to acknowledge our private sector colleagues: TetraTech, ECC, Ceres, SPSG. And also our tribal monitors who were critical in ensuring cultural legacy and cultural heritage was protected throughout this. All of them recognized what it meant to the community and what it meant to the individual residents. Empathy and compassion aren’t usually what one thinks about when one considers a government operation, but these teams delivered that every day: talking with homeowners, talking with residents, holding a hand of a crying individual who had lost every tangible possession. I could not be more proud of these colleagues.
Lastly and most importantly, we want to thank the community. We want to thank the people of Paradise, Concow, Magalia, Yankee Hill, Honey Run, and others. 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. We’re grateful. We are humbled—humbled by your trust and faith to get this done, and your trust to clean up the remnants of your lost homes.
I had the opportunity to attend a few weekly all-hands meetings, and many of those are conducted at a local church. And I often mentioned there that there is something fitting, appropriate, and profound about those all-hands meetings happening inside a church. That is a place where community gathers; that is a place where community is built. Paradise and the surrounding communities let us in to help repair the damage. You helped us to restore the landscape; you helped us to rebuild this community. There are no words that can bring back those lost tangible memories that were lost in the fire. There are no words that can soothe the grieving of what happened here – the pain and grieving about who was lost, not just what was lost. All we can offer are our deeds that demonstrate faith in each other and faith in community—a community that survived and a community that once again rejoices the return of the morning.
So thank you all very much for being here today.