Army Corps: historic fire cleanup is complete
State and federal officials Monday declared the debris removal from the North Bay wildfires — the largest such effort since the 1906 earthquake — complete.
The government sponsored cleanup work in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties has been winding down for months as the number of sites remaining to be cleared has dwindled. The last of the 4,563 parcels that signed up for the cleanup program was cleared last week.
The North Bay wildfires were the costliest in U.S. history, with insured losses approaching $10 billion. They also killed 40 people and destroyed 6,200 homes. That work that resulted in an estimated 2.2 million tons of ash and fire-related debris being hauled off. In the case of concrete from foundations, some was recycled, while much of it was buried in the Sonoma County Central Landfill.
Michael Wolff, a contractor whose firm has cleared more than 150 sites and assisted in hundreds of others, said while initially skeptical of the timeline, he was impressed with the coordination federal and state officials brought to the monumental task.
“For the most part, I felt like the (Army Corps of Engineers) did a great job,” Wolff said. “I was blown away by how well things came together and how much work was done in such a short period of time.”
Wolff said his company worked on the final lot to receive clearance, a site off Crown Hill Drive in the devastated Fountaingrove neighborhood that needed additional concrete removed, he said.
The Army Corps said it has “deactivated” its Rohnert Park office and would complete any additional work from Sacramento.
Plenty of work remains in the city and county, however, said Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa assistant fire marshal.
“Even though the Army Corps is stating that this part of the mission is complete, the city and county are still here, and we know there is still a long road to recovery,” Lowenthal said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
There are still two lots that need to be cleared in the city — a residential property and an apartment complex on Hopper Lane. Neither went through the government cleanup nor the private cleanup processes. Instead, the city’s legal department has been forced to initiate abatement proceedings against the two properties. It’s not clear how many such properties remain to the cleared in Sonoma County.
Some cleared properties still have issues, such as over-excavation, Lowenthal said.
An estimated 200 properties in Sonoma County may have been over-excavated by Army Corps contractors, and the state Office of Emergency Services is working with the county to identify them and return dirt to the site at no cost to property owners.
Of the 4,563 properties cleared, the vast majority, 3,674 or 81 percent, where in Sonoma County, where the Tubbs fire ravaged entire Santa Rosa neighborhoods. The Corps cleared 439 lots in Napa, 306 in Mendocino, and 144 in Lake County.
While the Corps has completed all debris removal on the 4,563 parcels, 22 sites still need to have additional work, such as soil testing and erosion control, before rebuilding can proceed, Lowenthal said.