California completes year-long Camp Fire cleanup effort

California completes year-long Camp Fire cleanup effort

CalRecycle and Cal OES joined forces after the fire to remove debris, the total tonnage of which equated to 10 Empire State Buildings.

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November 20, 2019

On the heels of the one-year anniversary of the Camp Fire, the most deadly wildfire in state history, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), based in Sacramento, and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) have announced the completion of debris removal on nearly 11,000 properties. 

The fire started on Nov. 8, 2018, in Northern California's Butte County and wasn’t fully contaminated until 17 days later. It caused at least 85 fatalities. In addition, more than 150,000 acres had been burned and close to 19,000 buildings were destroyed. The total cost of the fire damage was estimated at $16.5 billion.

CalRecycle says in a news release that the debris removal project was the largest of its type in state history and was jointly managed by Cal OES and CalRecycle. Crews removed more than 3.66 million tons—or 7.3 billion pounds—of ash, debris, metal, concrete, and contaminated soil in nine months as part of California’s Consolidated Debris Removal Program. The total tonnage of debris removed during the cleanup is equivalent to 10 Empire State Buildings.

“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,” says California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the news release. “Our state continues to stand with the communities and all families that were impacted.” 

Camp Fire recovery

The cleanup effort spanned approximately 13,400 properties. It was divided into two phases: removal of household hazardous waste and removal of other fire-related debris. 

The first phase of the cleanup began Dec. 3 and took two months as crews sorted through on-site rubble and ash to remove remnants of household hazardous waste, including paints, cleaners, solvents, oils, batteries, pesticides, compressed cylinders and tanks and easily identifiable asbestos.

Cleanup crews started the second phase—which involved site assessment and documentation, debris removal, erosion control measures and final inspection—Jan. 7. It cost an estimated $1.35 billion, though final calculations are still being carried out, according to CalRecycle.

After a competitive bid process that ended Jan. 22, CalRecycle selected ECC Constructors LLC, Burlingame, California; SPSG Partners JV, a joint venture including Sukut Construction, Pacific States Environmental Contractors, and Goodfellow Bros.; and Sarasota, Florida-based Ceres Environmental Services Inc., doing business as Environmental & Demolition Services Group, as the primary contractors for the cleanup. Each primary contractor employed a number of subcontractors to help facilitate the cleanup.

The debris removal operation was part of a wider effort by Newsom to help communities impacted by destructive wildfires rebuild and recover, CalRecycle says. 

“Debris removal is an important first step in the rebuilding of Butte County and the Town of Paradise,” CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline says. “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.”

“Today’s announcement marks an important milestone in helping Butte County rebuild and recover. The hard work of local, state and federal agencies following this catastrophic event and the unprecedented speed of this operation is a testament to the resolve and resiliency of Californians,” says Mark Ghilarducci, director of Cal OES. 

The debris removal program, implemented in coordination with local governments, offered survivors a streamlined option to clear their properties at no out-of-pocket cost. The state, along with local and federal partners, has assisted with multiple aspects of the recovery process, including:

• Establishing temporary short-term housing solutions for nearly 700 households displaced by the fire.

• Facilitating technical and grant expertise for the Paradise Irrigation District to help restore Paradise’s water system.

• Supporting public assistance projects to restore public infrastructure.

• Providing support and coordination for emotional and behavioral needs of children and their families.

Newsom also approved a rural designation for Paradise and other surrounding parts of Butte County, making the areas eligible for additional funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program funds totaling more than $500 million. 

Following the Camp Fire, California is the first state nationally to establish the Interagency Recovery Coordination functions—a federal model—to directly assist town and county officials with long-term recovery needs and initiatives. 

More action

Newsom has taken more critical actions beyond cleanup in response to the Camp Fire in the year since it ravaged the northern half of the state.

On recovery, he invested: 

  • $31.8 million for lost local property taxes for California communities recovering from disasters.

  • $10 million in additional support to local governments to help with the Camp Fire recovery.

  • $28.8 million for the California Disaster Assistance Act to assist local governments with disaster recovery.

  • $6.6 million for a health and wellness program to support emergency responders.

On preparedness, he invested:

  • $50 million in fiscal year 2019 for Listos California, an emergency preparedness outreach campaign.

  • $60 million, including $10 million in fiscal year 2019 and a revised fee structure that goes into effect next year, to upgrade California’s 911 system, and $1 million for a first responder broadband network and integration with the 911 system.

  • $75 million to build resiliency and surge capacity in the event of a utility company’s decision to initiate a public safety power shutdown. 

  • $38.9 million to expand the state’s capacity for emergency planning and enhance an all-hands response to disasters.

  • $730,000 to help streamline hazardous fuel treatment programs.

  • $41 million to increase inspections and enhance overview of utility companies’ wildfire mitigation programs. 

  • $225.8 million from Cap-and-Trade revenues and the General Fund for forest health, fuel reduction, and other wildfire prevention efforts—including $200 million of SB 901 funds allocated annually for five years.

  • $16.3 million to finish the build-out of California’s earthquake early warning system.

On response, he invested:

  • $67.5 million to expand firefighting surge capacity.

  • $127.2 million for C-130 air tankers and firefighting helicopters.

  • $130.3 million for better communication equipment for first responders.

  • $24.7 million for CAL Fire to procure innovative solutions to the wildfire crisis via the Innovation Procurement Sprint, operate fire detection cameras and enhance situational awareness staffing.

  • $25 million for prepositioning Cal OES and local government firefighting resources as part of the statewide mutual aid system, in advance of a potential wildfire threat driven by forecasted weather conditions.

Additionally, Newsom:

  • Expedited forest management projects to protect 200 of California’s most wildfire-vulnerable communities.

  • Deployed the California National Guard to assist CAL Fire with emergency hazardous fuels-management projects.

  • Awarded $20 million in block grants to improve forest health and increase fire resiliency.

  • Joined with Governors Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington in requesting President Donald Trump double the federal government’s financial investment in managing federal forestlands in California, Washington and Oregon.

  • Launched an initiative to get the most cutting-edge tools into the field and tackle the wildfire threat, resulting in two pilot projects to help modernize wildfire prevention and response.

  • Partnered with XPRIZE to design an incentive prize for innovation to battle wildfires.

  • Secured delegation of authority from the Secretary of Defense to fly CalGuard’s infra-red equipped Unmanned Aerial System in support of CAL Fire missions.

  • Partnered with the federal government to secure state access to satellite-based technology to detect wildfire ignitions.

On legislation, Newsom: 

  • Signed a series of bills aimed at improving California’s wildfire prevention, mitigation, and response efforts, continuing progress toward the state’s clean energy goals and holding utilities accountable by creating an insurance fund to cover future wildfire liabilities. The bills cover various areas for a comprehensive approach to these issues and reflect recommendations in the Governor’s Strike Force report. 

  • Signed two bills that will improve mental health awareness among firefighters and law enforcement officers by establishing a rebuttable presumption of injury for firefighters and law enforcement personnel in instances where they sustain occupational post-traumatic stress and establish statewide standards for first responder and firefighter peer support programs.

  • Signed multiple bills investing more than $75 million in community recovery, defensible space assistance and improving emergency operations at a local government level.

Read more about the state's fire cleanup effort in our January/February issue of Waste Today.