Major Debris Removal Operations are Complete in Southern California

Today state, federal and local officials announced the completion of major debris removal operations on more than 640 parcels across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties associated with the Thomas Fire. 

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), City of Ventura, County of Ventura, County of Santa Barbara, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and CalReycle jointly made the announcement at a press conference in Ventura.

The debris removal program is a two-phase process. Phase I was the removal of Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and US EPA along with Environmental Health Division staff.  Phase II is the removal of other fire-related debris from structures destroyed by the fire, and is managed by CalRecycle under the direction of FEMA.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control was mission tasked by Cal OES in early December to assess and remove household hazardous waste (HHW)  and asbestos from homes destroyed by the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. DTSC crews began assessment and removal activities on December 18, 2017. DTSC HazMat crews were in the field for 7 continuous weeks and removed over 400,000 lbs. of HHW and asbestos from 988 properties.   

“In response to the worst fire season on record, this program hit the ground running as soon as it was safe for crews to begin the debris removal work,”  said Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci. “The approach has been one-team, one-fight and as one team we have moved at a record setting-pace for this recovery work.  Today we are 97% done with only a handful of parcels where we have a little more work to do. 82% of the homes have been returned to the county and are ready for rebuilds.”

CalRecycle, DTSC and US EPA have cleared 667 parcels across the Thomas Fire burn area.  Of those, 646 are now complete and 529 of those parcels have been returned to the county for the next step in rebuilding.  

“The resiliency on display in these Ventura County communities has been an inspiration for CalRecycle, and its contractors, as we work with our local, state and federal partners on this historic recovery mission,” CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said. “CalRecycle is proud of the progress we’ve seen over the past five months and will continue our work until the final property destroyed by the Thomas fire is clean, safe and cleared for families to return.”

Since the Oct. 10 disaster declaration, more than 4,500 households have been approved for FEMA individual assistance, for a total of more than $16 million.

Reimbursements to state and local agencies have also been awarded under the FEMA Public Assistance program. Public Assistance not only assists towards the clean-up of communities but also helps with repairing or replacing infrastructure damaged by the disaster such as roads and bridges and reimbursing for emergency protective measures such as overtime costs for first responders or evacuation and sheltering activities.

““Our team of state, federal and local partners came together again, after the largest fire in California history and the destructive mudslides and flooding that followed,” said Bill Roche federal coordinating officer for the California wildfires. “We were able to assist with clean up and reduce future risks through the debris removal efforts. Since flood risks can increase for years after wildfires, we encourage people to protect themselves through smart rebuilding, and to seek financial protection through insurance, including flood insurance.”  

The Thomas Fire burned 281,893 acres in December 2017 and January 2018, making it the largest wildfire in California’s history. It damaged or destroyed over 1300 structures, caused the evacuation of over 100,000 people and severely damaged the watershed in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The consequences of that watershed damage became immediately evident when significant rainfall on January 9th triggered debris flows and flash floods destroying 166 structures, damaging 395 more and taking 21 lives in Santa Barbara County.

Click here to watch the archive of the press conference.

Bryan May

Bryan May is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Prior to joining Cal OES in 2017, Bryan spent 30 years as an Emmy award winning television anchor and reporter.

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