Signs of Recovery Show Six Months After Most Destructive Wildfires in California History, Debris Removal Reaches Major Milestone

Signs of rebuilding and progress become more evident each day, as it has been six months since the devastating and most destructive wildfires in California history burned and destroyed thousands of homes.

Today, these signs come as cleared lots and frames of new homes stand in the areas like Coffey Park, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods. A large part of facilitating recovery started with the removal of debris, lots of debris. In the first phase of the debris removal efforts, the Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Toxic Substances Control collected household hazardous waste throughout seven Northern California counties.

Through coordination with California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and in close partnership with FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, Cal EPA and CalRecycle, all major work for the removal of fire and ash debris has now been completed in Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Sonoma and Yuba counties. So far, nearly 1.7 million tons of debris, across all seven counties, has been removed.

Since the Oct. 10 disaster declaration, nearly 4,500 households have been approved for FEMA individual assistance, for a total of more than $15.7 million. Of this amount, more than $9.6 million has been approved for housing assistance that can assist with home repairs or replacement, rental assistance to be used to find another place to live temporarily while repairs are being made to their home and more than $6.1 million for other needs assistance. Other needs assistance is a grant to pay for other uninsured or underinsured expenses such as disaster-related medical, dental or funeral costs or personal property losses.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is another partner agency that plays an integral role in disaster recovery. The SBA provided assistance to businesses of all sizes, private nonprofits, homeowners and renters in the form of low-interest disaster loans. The SBA has approved nearly 1,200 loans for homeowners, renters and businesses for more than $151 million.

About 640 eligible Northern California households also participated in the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program to stay in a hotel/motel temporarily at no cost to the survivor, because their primary residence was not safe or able to be occupied, and they could not find a viable rental option.

Currently, roughly 230 families are being housed in a FEMA-provided housing option such as an RV (travel trailers and fifth wheels), Manufactured Housing Unit (MHUs), or direct lease of apartments. In this disaster, as in most, the vast majority of survivors have found their own housing solution. For the relatively small number of people who were unable to do so, a direct housing resource was a potential option for eligible survivors. These resources are throughout multiple locations in Northern California, including Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Redwood Empire Fairgrounds (Mendocino County), Berry Creek Rancheria RV Park (Butte County), and Clear Lake Resort (Lake County) as well as individual apartments and private land throughout the seven counties approved for direct housing. More than 20 families in Mendocino County will move later this month to an RV facility at Lake Mendocino that FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked together to expand and upgrade for interim use by survivors.

Reimbursements to state and local agencies have also been awarded, under the FEMA Public Assistance program. The PA program is intended to benefit everyone — neighborhoods, cities, counties and states. Public Assistance dollars help clean up communities affected by disaster- related debris, repair or replace infrastructure damaged by the disaster such as roads and bridges and reimburse for emergency protective measures such as overtime costs for first responders or evacuation and sheltering activities. So far, more than $271.8 million in public assistance grants has been obligated for eligible disaster–related costs, and the coming months will see millions in additional federal and state assistance to cities, counties, utility districts and other PA recipients.

Significant recovery progress has been made over the last six months, but preparing for future disasters remains essential. Increased flood risks that follow fires will persist for several years, and survivors can increase their financial protection by buying insurance now. Click here for information on flood risks after fire, go to  or visit California Department of Water Resources for more information.

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