Re-Building After The Camp Fire - What to Expect from Debris Removal to Building Permit Issuance
Guzi-West is based in Redding and thus our firm’s own friends and family just went through the Carr Fire and we are collectively in disbelief that another fire would be exponentially worse immediately thereafter; our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paradise, Concow, Magalia, and surrounding communities. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are now well versed in what property owners can expect from performing asbestos surveys, developing work plans, collecting soil samples, deciding to participate in governmental programs or not, to how to get the maximum amount of insurance coverage – this document is meant to serve as a general guide for what to expect and how to get through the process as efficiently and painlessly as possible.
Step 1: CalRecycle and the CA Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) are already establishing working plans to bring in teams of both government and private contractors. The Cal-Recycle website was updated 11-20-18 with the following information specific to the Camp and Woolsey Fires: https://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/disaster/wildfires. These state agencies will work with local municipalities and public information meetings will be scheduled in the very near future. Local assistance centers will be setup and a telephone hotline established. The fact that the entire area has been declared a federal disaster is important as not only are federal and state funds now available for the cleanup, there will also be funds available to simply help homeowners with recovery (visit www.disasterassistance.gov and register or do so by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362)). Butte County also has an impressive amount of information already available on their website: https://www.buttecounty.net/.
Step 2: CalRecycle/CalOES will bring in teams to assess and predominantly remove household hazardous wastes (i.e. propane tanks, chemicals, etc.) from residential properties that were destroyed. This step will be performed regardless of whether a property owner elects to participate in the government-sponsored debris removal program or they elect to retain private contractors to remove the debris and pay for the removal through insurance coverage (explained in more detail below).
Step 3: CalRecycle, CalOES, and Butte County will collectively prepare a state-sponsored debris removal program. All sites will be assessed for asbestos and then ash, fire debris, etc. will be removed from properties destroyed by 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 then be collected from the property has been adequately cleaned to ensure a safe site for re-building. The debris removal step is where homeowners 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 of the debris removal program – if homeowner’s choose to opt-in they are electing to have government agencies perform the scope of work, while homeowner’s who choose to opt-out will work with their insurance providers to retain private contractors to perform the scope of work. In the Redding/Shasta County area, the homeowners who elected to opt-out did so as they either did not wish to have governmental contractors perform the debris removal as they may have wish to preserve their foundations, decorative concrete, pool, etc. If homeowners elect to opt-in then all concrete foundations, retaining walls, pools, decorative concrete, etc. will be removed. More information can be found here regarding debris removal processes established by CalOES.
It’s very important to weigh costs and insurance coverage when determining whether you elect to opt-in or opt-out (we will provide additional information on maximizing insurance coverage in a separate document). If you opt-in, all costs associated with testing and debris removal will almost certainly be paid for by the Federal and State governments; thus, if you don’t have insurance coverage or your insurance coverage is low then our firm highly recommends you opt-into the program. If you have insurance coverage and elect to opt-in then the portion of your insurance coverage specific to debris removal will have to be forfeited to the County/State as a reimbursement for the costs covered by the County/State. The disadvantage of opting-in is that homeowners can’t control the initial testing work, what is removed and what isn’t, removal of the debris, general control of their property and most importantly time (the government process for doing the required testing, waste removal, and confirmation testing in the end is expected to take several months at minimum). If you have good insurance coverage, then you may be wise to opt-out as you then have significant control over the process. Additional guidance will be provided on opting-in or out in a later document once more information is available specific to the camp fire.
Step 4: Once all ash, fire debris, and soil has been removed from the property, the confirmation soil samples will be collected from each property and submitted for analysis of 17 metals (commonly referred to as the CAM 17 metals). Health screening criteria for each metal will be developed by local and state agencies and each property’s confirmation soil sample results will be compared against the health screening criteria and likely against background native concentrations of those metals. If the site specific soil samples are below the health screening criteria and/or established background concentrations, then the site will be cleared for re-building and a building permit issued.
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. The information presented herein is believed to be the most accurate information currently available. The guide will be updated as new information becomes available. We are genuinely devastated to see another local community go through a massive tragedy; if we can help provide you guidance, information, or be of any help in general, please feel free to contact me and I will provide whatever help I can at no charge of course.
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