State's largest debris removal effort officially underway, weather impacting crews

Crews work to clear wildfire debris from a lot at the corner of Fairview Drive and Maxwell Drive in Paradise, California.

The State of California has officially begun its largest wildfire debris removal effort.

The work began on January 28 and continued into the month of February despite snow and heavy rainfall in the burn scar areas.

While work was halted on Tuesday and Wednesday, crews resumed clearing lots on Thursday.

"We're not able to work in heavy rain or in snow areas. We are able to work in light rains but our ultimate deciding factors is the safety of the crews while they're working and heavy equipment so that it doesn't sink or get stuck on the site that we're working on," says Elise Arata, an Emergency Services Coordinator with Cal OES.

Arata says that Cal OES partners with the National Weather Service to determine whether or not it is safe for crews to be working in the burn scar areas to remove debris. She added that with heavy rainfall in the forecast, more work could be halted until the rain stops and the burn scar area dries out.

So far, two lots have been cleared according to Cal Recycle. They say the totals as of February 5 stand at:

  • 6,581 Total sites eligible and registered for the removal
  • 10,543 Right-of-entry forms have been submitted (some still need to be processed for eligibility)
  • 2,711 Sites assessed completed
  • 1,595 Asbestos surveys completed
  • 515 Sites with bulk asbestos containing material
  • 25 Sites abated of bulk asbestos containing material
  • 2 Number of parcels with debris removal completed
  • 168 Tons of metals have been removed
  • 4,764 tons of debris, ash and soil have been removed
  • 1,073 Tons of concrete have been removed
  • 221 Tons of contaminated soil have been removed

Butte County added that 165 private contractor debris removal forms have been received and 104 of those have been approved.

Currently the state is working in zones 2,3,4, and 9 to clear debris.

Crews worked at an address on the corner of Fairview Drive and Maxwell Drive on Thursday. It is down the street from Paradise High School.

Cal OES says that crews work in areas based on the number of ROE, or right-of-entry forms submitted, and areas near a sensitive receptor.

"These are things like schools, retirement facilities, anything along a water shed, neighborhoods where there are still standing homes that are being inhabited," Arata said.

Butte County says that there are still hundreds of people that need to either opt in or out of the state's debris removal program.

"We've had about 80 percent of the people who need to have fire debris removed from their property sign up for one of the two programs," says Casey Hatcher, a Public Information Officer for Butte County.

As crews continue to remove wildfire debris, the county says they will continue to accept right-of-entry forms through February 15.

As of February 5, only two lots had been cleared of wildfire debris. More work continued on February 7 but with rain in the forecast, that work could come to a halt.

The state says the whole process could take one year to complete.

Multiple crews will be spread out throughout the county trying to get the work completed as quickly as possible. They work in areas with sensitive receptors and areas that have the highest amount of right-of-entry forms submitted.

In addition, air quality information will be available here and will be measured by the state in areas where they are clearing debris. They say this information will take several weeks to gather before it becomes available on the website.

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