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