Kincade fire cleanup starts with county-funded hazardous waste removal
As crew members with a private hazardous waste removal company loaded up pickings from one pile of ash Wednesday near Calistoga, two others made their way to another pile with specialized equipment in hand.
Wearing protective suits and respirators, the workers were testing the area for signs of radiation or toxic gases — a crucial first step before work would continue on this plot.
Before the Kincade fire roared through the area in late October, the piles of ash were buildings and homes on the LaFranchi Ranch. Wednesday’s work, which will extend to burned structures throughout the nearly 80,000-acre burn zone of Sonoma County’s largest fire, marked the start of the recovery.
“Once the fire is out, we need to figure out how to return the community to that safe and healthy environment it was previously,” Environmental Health Director Christine Sosko said.
The county-funded hazardous waste cleanup, estimated to cost $500,000-$750,000, is the first step in the recovery, Sosko said. The Kincade fire wasn’t the most destructive in county history, taking only 374 buildings, including 174 homes, compared to thousands lost just two years ago. But the toll is still extensive. Nearly everything on the LaFranchi property was lost.
When workers from Chico-based NRC Environmental Services picked through the rubble, they did so with some expertise and training, scanning the ruins for specific areas: the garage, the laundry room, places used to store cleaning products, paints, solvents, and other hazardous materials.
Anything crews picked out was transferred to plastic buckets, then carried to metal, 55-gallon drums to be hauled to an approved landfill.
The county program will dispatch contractors to all burned structures searching for hazardous waste, instead of just burned homes, as happened in the 2017 fires. NRC Environmental Services will have up to four crews with up to 10 employees on each crew starting hazardous waste cleanup next week.
Each crew will have a county employee on board. The process will take two to three weeks, according to county officials.
The second phase, the full-on debris removal process, falls to property owners, who are tasked with hiring licensed contractors, including specialized companies to deal with asbestos and conduct soils testing. Signs have already sprouted up along burned roadsides from contractors soliciting work. Every property owner must submit an application to the county including a work plan and the name of contractor to be used.
Sosko said property owners can do the work themselves if they comply with rigorous county standards.
“They have to do it through the program,” she said. “They still have to fill out all of the paperwork. They still have to do a work plan, and have to have qualifications.”
Sosko said the county will hire experts to review documentation related to soils testing before issuing building permits for property owners looking to rebuild.
County officials plan to review and return applications within 48 hours. They’re still working to publish a sample work plan to provide a template for property owners or contractors, including contractors who haven’t done this type of work.
Further, Sosko said, officials are working to set up a training for contractors on debris removal, bringing in CalRecycle, the state solid waste agency, to review the process.
When asked what would make her department reject an application, Sosko said it could be anything from a missing signature to a lack of detail about the burn footprint or insufficient information about a contractor a property owner plans to hire for soil testing.
To date, the county has received two applications, both of which have been incomplete. Sosko said staff have fielded phone calls from at least 30 property owners, though, and she promised a personal touch for fire survivors working through the rebuild process.
“We really do not want to impede this process for anybody,” Sosko said.
You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tylersilvy.