California completes year-long Camp Fire cleanup effort

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 contained 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.”

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, 2018 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.

Crews started the second phase—which involved site assessment and documentation, debris removal, erosion control measures and final inspection—Jan. 7, 2019. It cost an estimated $1.35 billion, though final calculations are still being carried out, according to CalRecycle.

After a bid process that ended Jan. 22, 2019, 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.”

The debris removal program 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 in:

  • 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.