Fire Cleanup & Re-Building Explained in 4 Steps
As a homeowner, you probably want to know – what now? This guide is based upon our firm’s experience with the recent Carr and Camp Fires in Northern California. We’re sadly well versed in this process from a personal and professional level. The guide is intentionally brief and to the point with links to other sources of helpful information. It also assumes each area will be declared a federal disaster area. Oregon seems to still be in the process of lining out their process, but we expect Oregon to closely, if not identically, follow the steps California has developed with local, state and federal officials over the previous years.
Step 1: CalRecycle, CA Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), and the CA Department of Toxic Substances Control teams will identify and remove household hazardous waste from each property (i.e. chemicals, propane tanks, etc.), as well as trees that pose an immediate threat. This step is performed at no cost to property owners, and must be completed before any other work is done at your property (you can’t hire a private contractor to perform this work or begin debris removal until this is complete).
Recommendation: We highly recommend private homeowners determine what their homeowner’s insurance policy covers in terms of ‘debris removal’ now. You can review a guide here that we developed for the Camp Fire to help homeowners know what to ask to help ensure that you maximize insurance coverage. This is important for Step 2.
Step 2: CalRecycle, CalOES, and the respective County Environmental Health Department will collectively prepare a state-sponsored debris removal program which takes place after step 1.
Note: this is the step where property owners can elect to opt in or opt out of the state-sponsored program. The scope of work for the debris clean-up is essentially identical whether homeowners opt in or opt out. If you choose to opt in, you’re electing to have government agencies perform the work, but if you choose to opt out will work with their insurance providers and retain private contractors to perform the work. It’s important to note that if you opt in, all debris removal costs will be covered in full (i.e. your insurance coverage for debris removal will be turned over to the state for reimbursement for the costs they incur for debris removal or sampling. If costs go over your insurance amounts, the state/federal governments will pay the overage. If you opt out, you’re planning to utilize your insurance coverage to cover costs associated with the debris removal. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options; additional guidance will be provided on opting in or out once more information is available specific to the Camp Fire.
Step 3: Workplans are prepared that explain what and how the debris will be removed. All sites will be assessed for asbestos (regardless of the age of the structure) and then ash and fire debris will be removed from properties destroyed by the fire. Following removal of those materials, 3-6 inches of soil will be excavated from the ash footprint (soil is believed to be contaminated by various metals and other items which melted during the fire), and finally ‘confirmation soil samples’ will be collected from the property has been adequately cleaned to ensure a safe site for rebuilding.
Step 4: A completion report will be prepared that summarizes the work completed and provides receipts for waste disposal. The County Environmental Health Department will review and approve the report if all conditions are met. For most counties, the building department will not issue a building permit until the completion report is approved and a completion certificate issued to the property owner.
Summary: This guide was developed by Guzi-West’s Certified Asbestos Consultant (CAC), Clay Guzi, based upon review of information from CalOES, CalRecycle, DTSC, and FEMA. Our firm will most likely work on both the governmental and private sides of project cleanup. As a result, the information presented herein is intended to be an unbiased, straight forward summary of what to expect. From a personal standpoint, we know it’s a brutal position to be in and we’re genuinely sorry for all in our state in this position. If we can help provide you with guidance and information, or be of any help in general, please contact us and we’ll provide whatever help we can. Contact Clay Guzi and the Guzi-West team at 888-351-8189 ext. 5, firstname.lastname@example.org.