Gary and Laurel Quast’s Coffey Park home burned to the ground last month in the devastating Tubbs fire.
Aaron Groves and his wife, Judith Hong, saw their Fountaingrove home incinerated by the same inferno.
The two Santa Rosa couples have suffered very similar losses, but they’ve made very different decisions about the most pressing question now facing thousands of fire victims: How to go about cleaning up the ruins?
The Quasts have agreed to let contractors hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers remove the debris from their Monticello Court home through a program being heavily promoted as the fastest, easiest and most economical way for most people to clear their lots and get set to rebuild.
Groves and Hong have decided instead to have a private contractor remove the tons of potentially contaminated debris from their Shelter Glen Way property, figuring that it will give them more control over the process and a better chance of being left with a hillside site ready for rebuilding.
With the Monday deadline to sign up for the Army Corps cleanup program looming, thousands of people, many still reeling from the disaster, now face the same high-stakes decision.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, 3,063 property owners had turned in “right of entry” forms to Sonoma County officials allowing contractors hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up their sites.
That’s 67 percent of the approximately 5,130 homes destroyed by the Tubbs, Nuns and Pocket fires in Sonoma County last month. So far, 1,933 of those applications have been approved, a process that sometimes requires additional documentation.
Those numbers are still below where officials would like them to be. Participation in similar disaster cleanup efforts has been around 90 percent, federal officials said.
A last-minute rush of applications may come, so there is still optimism that the government cleanup will involve a larger share of affected properties, said Rick Brown, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers.
“We’re expecting a big push,” Brown said Saturday from one of the three community resource fairs being held this weekend to help people get information about the process.
The more people who participate, the more efficient the cleanup will be and the faster the community can begin rebuilding, he said.
All of which makes it seem like a pretty easy decision. For some it may be. For others it’s more complicated.
An easy call for some
For the Quasts, who have lived in their Coffey Park home for 30 years, the decision to let the Army Corps clean up their property was a pretty simply one.
Gary Quast, a retired Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. project manager, said opting in to the program made financial sense.
He doesn’t think his insurance policy would cover the entire cost of the cleanup were the couple to go it alone, and he doesn’t want to risk being forced to make up the difference.
“Why would you expose yourself to that kind of liability?” Quast said. “I don’t get it.”
The main benefit and chief selling point of having the Army Corps carry out the cleanup is that the federal government will cover the cost of the removal and remediation beyond what a homeowner’s policy provides.
Quast’s insurance policy, which is based on a formula of 5 percent of the property loss, is going to pay $20,000 toward debris removal and site cleanup, he said.
Fire debris removal
For more information, about the debris removal options, visit https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/
The Sonoma County Department of Health Services has set up a Debris Removal Right-of-Entry Processing Center. It’s open 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 625 5th St., Santa Rosa, 707-565-6700
Those who want to hire a private contractor will still need to receive approval from the Sonoma County Alternative Fire Clean-Up Program. The deadline for that program is Nov. 22. Officials stress that private contractors will need to have the same licensing and workplace safety certifications as contractors under the oversight of the Army Corp of Engineers.
The last of three Debris Removal Resources Fairs is Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sonoma County Veteran’s Building on 1351 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here