Every year, California faces the threat of devastating wildfires that have the potential to claim lives, destroy property, and harm the environment. Wildfire debris removal programs are implemented under the leadership of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and local governments.
CalRecycle is often tasked with overseeing and managing contractors and consultants to conduct debris removal operations on private properties at no out-of-pocket cost to property owners; however, where applicable, insurance proceeds specifically dedicated for debris removal shall be remitted to offset costs. Homeowners who choose to participate in the debris removal phase of the cleanup program are required to return signed Right of Entry forms to their local governments.
Beginning in summer of 2018, California experienced a series of fast-moving wildfires that claimed lives and caused significant damage to communities throughout California.
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) tasked CalRecycle to manage debris removal operations in Shasta and Siskiyou counties.
Wildfire Cleanup Process and Order of Operations
The state-managed debris removal program has two phases: removal of household hazardous waste and removal of other fire-related debris.
Phase 1 | Household Hazardous Waste Removal
California Department of Toxic Substances Control or other dedicated agency
- Clear properties of household hazardous waste, including propane tanks, compressed gas cylinders, and solvents.
- Test properties for asbestos and remove bulk asbestos material.
Phase 2 | Debris Removal
California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery
Site assessment and documentation
- Measure and record foundation, structures, debris, utility infrastructure, and property-specific hazards.
- Obtain and evaluate soil samples to establish cleanup goals for the project; identify and remove remaining asbestos-containing materials.
- Remove of all burnt debris, foundations, dangerous trees, and contaminated soil
- Conduct confirmation sampling.
- Sample and analyze soil and compare results to cleanup goals.
Erosion control measures
- Implement storm water best management practices to control sediment runoff and promote vegetation growth.
- Property owners receive a certification that verifies the lot is clean and eligible to receive a building permit.
Private Cleanups: Property owners who do not qualify for, or who choose not to participate in, the state program should consult their local officials for information on contractor requirements and cleanup standards.
Resources for Homeowners
CalRecycle has been involved in past cleanup efforts for several large wildfires and has prepared the resources and guidance below to help local governments with wildfire debris management and disposal, household hazardous waste collection and storage, and ash cleanup and disposal.
- California Office of Emergency Services: wildfirerecovery.org
- California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA): Fire Response and Recovery
- California Contractors State License Board: Disaster Information Center
- California Department of Insurance: Dealing With Catastrophes--Wildfires
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- Department of Toxic Substances Control: Emergency Guidance on Wildfires #1: Handling Ash, Debris and Other Hazardous Materials from Burned Structures
Resources for Local Jurisdictions
Depending on the circumstances and extent of damage caused by a wildfire, local government jurisdictions develop a coordinated approach to fire debris cleanup. This could involve:
- Establishment of standards for cleanup (based on public health and safety findings from prior fires).
- Local government contracting and management of debris removal from private properties for those entities voluntarily participating in the coordinated program.
- The use of State-contracted cleanup crews.
Local government jurisdictions choosing to coordinate a fire debris cleanup may also want to consider the following:
- Establishment of a debris removal operations center;
- Voluntary participation programs, including the right-of-entry permit, which allows a County/City/State agency to proceed with cleanup on privately owned properties;
- Household hazardous waste collection/coordination;
- Removal of landscape/vegetation;
- Erosion control.
For technical questions regarding wildfire debris and its removal, contact CalRecycle.
Disaster Waste Tracking: Jurisdictions may deduct disaster waste tonnage in their annual reports to CalRecycle so it will not negatively impact their solid waste diversion rates. In order for jurisdictions to claim this disposal reduction, it is essential that disaster waste be tracked separately from other waste at disposal facilities. For each disaster waste load received, facilities must record the tons by jurisdiction. Local government and emergency personnel have the most specific knowledge of areas that burned and facilities that are or will be receiving disaster waste. We ask that you notify all applicable facilities regarding these record-keeping needs.
The following documents provide CalRecycle guidance for local disaster response efforts:
- Local Enforcement Agency Advisory #43--Disaster Assistance. Guidance on disaster debris management, including selecting and securing temporary storage sites.
- Local Enforcement Agency Guidance Emergency Waiver of Standards.
- Integrated Waste Management Disaster Plan. CalRecycle’s 1997 plan contains information and case studies that can assist local governments in recovery efforts. Please go to the FEMA website for up-to-date information on reimbursement requirements.
- Asbestos-Containing Ash and Disaster Debris. Solid waste landfills accepting ash or other disaster debris that contains greater than 1 percent friable asbestos by weight that are not already permitted to accept such waste must obtain an emergency waiver specific to this waste type pursuant to the procedure set forth in California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Division 7, Chapter 3, Article 3. Where the Enforcement Agency has issued a waiver, the ash or debris containing greater than 1 percent friable asbestos should be handled in accordance with California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 17897.18 “Design and Operating Requirements” for solid waste facilities that dispose of asbestos-containing waste.
- Rebuilding Green. CalRecycle's fact sheet provides ideas that can save or reduce resources in five categories: site, water, energy, materials, and indoor environmental quality as you rebuild your home after a disaster.
- CalRecycle Local Assistance and Market Development Contacts. CalRecycle's Local Assistance staff can help local governments locate disaster debris processors and sample disaster debris contracts and ordinances.
- Local Enforcement Agency (LEA) Directory
- CalRecycle Permitting and Enforcement Contacts for local enforcement agency (LEA) reference