Last year’s wildfire season had proved to be the deadliest and most destructive in California’s recorded history. People all over the country, in fact all over the world, watched live television coverage in shock and horror as the state struggled to control a total of 8,527 fires spread over an area of 1,893,913 acres. Houses burned down, lives were lost, and in the wake of all that damage and destruction, rehabilitation and reconstruction work had to begin immediately, so the state could bring normalcy back into residents’ lives as quickly as possible.
But before rebuilding work can safely commence, a giant undertaking has to first take place in the form of debris removal. Wildfires are not selective about what they burn, and post-wildfire locations are a dystopian scenario with a scale of destruction that boggles the mind when one thinks how these massive quantities of material lying waste can possibly be hauled away in a controlled and methodical manner.
To accomplish this task, the state uses licensed general contractors, who in turn bring in licensed subcontractors to complete the wildfire debris removal work.
HOW THE WILDFIRE CLEAN-UP PROCESS WORKS
The debris clean-up operation is usually completed in two phases.
Household hazardous waste removal work is completed in the first phase, overseen by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control or another dedicated agency.
Household properties are cleared of propane tanks, compressed gas cylinders, solvents, paints, thinners, air-conditioners, lawn mowers, lead acid batteries, etc. that fall in the `segregated’ category. The damaged properties are then analyzed for presence of asbestos and its safe removal.
The second phase involves the removal of fire-related debris and this work is overseen by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.
Site assessment and documentation is the first job during this phase to establish property-specific hazards, condition of utility infrastructure etc. Soil samples are evaluated to find the most effective way to approach clean-up endeavors in a specific location and avoid possibilities of leaving behind material that is toxic or harmful to the environment.
Next comes debris removal. Ash, charred debris and other contaminated materials from burned structures may be hazardous wastes. To minimize exposure to emergency personnel, the general public, and workers involved with restoration efforts, and to minimize air dispersion and run-off to surrounding surface waters, the ash and contaminated debris is cleaned up and contained as quickly as possible and hauled off-location.
Care is taken to make sure that uncontaminated and unburned hazardous materials (hazardous, smoke-damaged materials from partially burned structures) are not collected at the same time as ash and debris.
Instead, these materials are segregated and directed to local hazardous waste collection programs.
Ash and contaminated debris from industrial properties pose some unique challenges during this clean-up phase.
Waste from industrial locations is more likely to contain hazardous residues that are not typically found in the municipal solid waste stream. Therefore, disposal to a municipal solid waste landfill (class three) may not be appropriate for these materials and local certified hazardous materials program and/or DTSC has to be contacted if assistance or site evaluation is needed from such premises prior to containment.
Once all waste material has been disposed in the best possible way, a sampling is conducted to confirm the area is clear and hazard-free. Soil is sampled and analyzed once again and the results are compared to clean-up goals.
Erosion control measures, such as storm water management, are then undertaken to control sediment runoff and promote vegetation growth.
Then there is a final inspection, after which property owners are given a certificate that verifies the location is clean and eligible to receive a building permit.
Wildfire debris removal is an extremely laborious and expensive process with many variables, but unless this is done with maximum responsibility, future problems with the environment health of the location becomes uncertain.
At Custom Truck One Source, we are deeply grateful to a great many of our customers who are working tirelessly at wildfire devastation sites to remove waste and make homes and the environment in California whole again.
Thank you for your efforts, and we wish the state of California and victims of the 2018 wildfires a speedy recovery!
* Source: Calrecycle.ca.gov