Frequently Asked Questions ("FAQ's") Related to Fire Debris Removal

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In general, local agencies significantly impacted by major wildfire incidents may receive additional resources for responding to the disaster from State and Federal agencies when a local public health emergency has been declared. As a result, the safe and appropriate removal of household hazardous waste (HHW) and debris and ash from burned properties is managed under the Consolidated Debris Removal Program. 

Debris and ash from residential and commercial fires contain many hazardous materials, created through the burning of synthetic and toxic materials. Household products such as gasoline, cleaning products, pesticides, freon, lead, asbestos, and other chemicals may have been stored in homes, garages, or sheds that burned in the fire. These materials can be present in the ash and soil following a fire. Exposures can occur by sifting through ash and debris, causing ash to become airborne and inhaled or ingested. The improper handling and disposal of hazardous material may impact you, the environment, and the general public health. 

The Consolidated Debris Removal Program has two phases: Phase I, the removal of household hazardous waste and Phase II, the removal of other remaining fire-related debris.

What does Phase I entail?

Phase I is the mandatory inspection and removal process of hazardous wastes from all burned properties before the removal of structural debris and ash.  The local public health declaration allows for a government agency to enter properties to assess and remove hazardous waste, and conduct assessments to ensure hazards are mitigated. County, state and federal agencies organize teams of experts to inspect your property and remove any household hazardous waste that may pose a threat to human health, animals, and the environment such as batteries, herbicides, pesticides, propane tanks, asbestos siding, and paints. You do not need to do anything to have household hazardous waste (HHW) removed from your property.   

What does Phase II entail?

Phase II is the removal of structural debris and ash from a property once Phase I is complete.  There are generally two options for Phase II debris and ash removal; a government option and a private option.  

The government option is generally completed by CalOES and CalRecycle working for and under the direction of FEMA.  This option requires submittal of the Right of Entry (ROE) document.  The government option is done at no cost to the property owner. However, if owners have fire debris removal insurance they are required to assign that portion of the insurance proceeds to the County to cover the cost of debris removal.

The private option allows owners or their qualified contractors to remove debris and ash. To choose this option, after Phase I is complete property owners will submit a Debris and Ash Removal (DAR) Application and Plan and must comply with all the requirements contained therein. Private work completed under an approved plan shall be at property owners’ expense. There will be no subsidy through local, State or Federal government. Additional Requirement for homes/structures built before 1990: Owners must first have the property assessed by a Certified Asbestos Abatement Consultant. Any asbestos identified by the consultant must be removed by a licensed Asbestos Abatement Contractor. An asbestos survey/removal report must be provided prior to the acceptance of a DAR application and Plan.

What will happen if the private Debris and Ash Removal (DAR) Plan debris removal process is not completed by the deadline provided?

Property owners that have not completed the private Debris and Ash Removal (DAR) Plan cleanup process by the deadline, may be abated by court order and a lien placed on their property for the cost. 

What happens if a property owner does not submit the paperwork to either enroll in the government debris removal program or submit a Debris and Ash Removal (DAR) Application and Plan by the deadline?

Property owners that fail to file the necessary paperwork by the program deadline, may be abated by court order and a lien placed on their property for the cost. 

During Phase I, should property owners be there during the HHW removal process?

Owners are not required to be present for the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Sweep. The safety of the general public and workers is a priority during HHW Sweep. To prevent safety hazards, the public is encouraged to stay away from areas where HHW Sweep operations are underway. Exclusion zones will be established surrounding the current work area to ensure safety of the public.

How will I know if workers on my property are authorized by the State's Consolidated Debris Removal Program? Also, can I be sued by the workers that are removing Household Hazardous Waste from my property? 

The State will provide information and a list of authorized debris removal teams for work to be conducted. The Household Hazardous Waste contractors will be licensed and insured, and their insurance will cover any injuries or damage to equipment that occurs during the Household Hazardous Waste removal process. 

If I lost my home in a fire, what are the requirements for placing a temporary trailer on my lot or another lot?

There are specific requirements for placing a trailer on your own property or on a friend or neighbor’s property. Please review the information from PBES and the Public Health Officer, and also review the building permit requirements available on the PBES Building Division Web page. It is important that you review both these documents before making an application to the PBES Building Division.  All temporary trailers must meet the siting requirements, be connected to approved power and water supply, and be connected to an approved sewer or septic system. Hauling in water or pumping trailer wastewater tanks is not allowed.

What is the process for fire damaged wells and septic systems?  

Please review the Fire Disaster Response for Water and Septic document for general information. Please refer to the FEMA assistance with private wells and septic systems document for resources for that may be available from FEMA that are not covered by insurance. Additional information regarding private wells, springs, and septic systems are available on the Environmental Health website.

Why can't my contractor remove Phase I Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) from my home as part of the general clean up?

For residential properties included in the Phase I government HHW and Asbestos assessment and removal program, the HHW must be assessed and removed by the authorized government program team to protect public health and safety as part of a declared public health emergency protective measure. Hazardous waste could have significant long-term environmental impacts and should not be combined with the waste from the general clean-up that is going to the landfill. Removal of hazardous waste from the fire debris prevents these environmental contaminants from polluting the environment, and protects the workers and the public from exposure during debris removal efforts. Removal crews are specifically certified to handle household hazardous waste and bulk asbestos containing materials.

Is there still a danger with the fire debris and ash even after the household hazardous waste has been removed?

Yes, there is still a danger as fire debris and ash may contain hazardous substances like heavy metals and asbestos fibers.

After a wildfire, what steps should be taken to prepare a property for rain? 

The post-fire landscape is especially susceptible to stormwater runoff-related hazards such as landslides, debris flow, flooding, and rockfall. Fire destroys vegetation and root systems that provide stability to the soil. Fire damage may also create hydrophobic soils, which could concentrate runoff into slopes that may already be prone to failure. It is the property owner’s responsibility to control stormwater runoff from their property. Property owners and contractors on burned lots and rebuild sites must take action to prevent pollutants, including sediment, from entering storm drains, creeks, rivers, and wetlands. 

Property owners should evaluate their property for potential hazard areas and install erosion and sediment control Best Management Practices (BMPs) as required. The Napa County Debris and Ash Removal Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan will help you evaluate your property and choose BMPs. BMP materials such as wattles, mulch, and silt fencing, are available for purchase at various agriculture, garden supply and hardware stores. BMPs are used to minimize erosion and control sediment to keep pollutants from entering storm drains and our natural water bodies like creeks and rivers.

Visit Napa County’s Watershed Recovery page for more information and resources.

Why do soil samples need to be taken on a wildfire impacted property and what are soil cleanup goals?

Once the debris and ash has been removed from a property, the soil is tested for 17 metals to determine if the property has been adequately cleaned up for both government and private cleanups. Soil cleanup goals are established for each of the metals, in the specific geologic areas within a wildfire perimeter. Soil samples with levels of metals at or below the cleanup goals are considered satisfactory. Samples with levels of metals above the cleanup goals indicate additional work is required at the property. The soil samples are collected by a qualified professional and analyzed by a State certified laboratory.