Cleanup from California wildfires enters new phase

Updated November 11, 2017 - 9:21 pm

SONOMA, Calif. — Rumbling bulldozers and front-loaders have started scraping up the ash, charred wood and crumbled bricks and concrete left from thousands of homes and buildings destroyed by blazes in California wine country, launching a new phase in the largest wildfire cleanup in state history.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors began the work this week in flattened, blackened blocks of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood. It experienced some of the most-sweeping destruction last month when fierce winds drove flames that killed at least 43 people and destroyed 8,900 houses and other buildings across Northern California.

On Santa Rosa streets where hundreds of houses once stood, “you look across the landscape and see nothing but burned everything,” Army Corps spokesman Rick Brown said as crews and heavy equipment around him began clearing debris from lots.


 

Expensive cleanup

U.S., state and local agencies are working on the cleanup, which includes testing soil, air and water samples from burned areas for contamination. Authorities say they expect to have the lots cleared for property owners by early 2018, although rebuilding is expected to take years more.

California puts the insured losses at $3.3 billion so far, among the highest of any U.S. wildfires in recent decades.

In hard-hit Sonoma and Napa counties, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finished the first phase of cleanup at most properties: removing potential hazardous substances before the heavy equipment moves in.

Generally, the fires overran housing developments and rural areas rather than industrial sites, so the hazardous waste is mainly what’s in garages and barns — propane tanks from barbecue grills, cans of motor oil, and pesticides, officials say.

That contrasts with Hurricane Harvey, which flooded more than a dozen Superfund sites in Houston and other coastal areas this year, raising fears that contamination may have reached a wide area. The damage is still being assessed.

In California, crews have started scraping up home foundations and the top 3 to 6 inches of ash, debris and soil, said Brown of the Army Corps of Engineers. In some of the more upscale developments on ridgetops, the work is complicated by ruins that have tumbled downhill, he said.

The Army Corps is taking soil samples near burned homes and buildings and will take more from the lots after they have been scraped, Brown said. The state will test the samples for contaminants such as asbestos or other metals and chemicals to ensure the sites are clean enough for rebuilding.

If not, “we’ll scrape a couple more inches of soil, take that back to the lab, and let them decide if that does it,” Brown said.

Some of those who lost homes have been confused over warnings of possible hazardous substances in the ruins of their neighborhoods. Watching the heavy equipment at work this week, survivor Larry Keyser admitted worrying over contamination but wasn’t sure what the cleanup crews would be testing for.

“Like any concerned citizen, you want to be concerned about your environment,” Keyser said.


 

Air, water testing

Officials, meanwhile, have placed about a dozen air monitors around Sonoma County, including four at schools. The wildfires burned for more than a week and shrouded much of the San Francisco Bay Area in smoke, creating some of the worst air-quality readings on record there.

The air in the burned region is again testing at healthy levels, said Melanie Turner, spokeswoman at the California Air Resources Board.

Around the wildfire zones, teams from local water departments, the U.S. Geological Survey and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories also have been working to reduce and monitor any hazardous runoff into hundreds of waterways.

Teams have spent weeks positioning bundles of straw and bags of gravel or sand between blackened neighborhoods and creeks critical to people and native species, such as local coho salmon.

Devastated areas have received only light rain so far, but heavy downpours could sweep massive amounts of debris and contaminants into waterways.

With more showers at midweek, Rich Fadness at the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board readied a dozen staffers to grab samples of runoff flowing into creeks at four key sites.

“Any time there’s a fire, there’s always issues,” Fadness said. “With the amount of work we’re doing, I hope it will be minimized.”

News Videos
Syphilis Awareness Day
Dr. Joe Iser, District Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, discusses the effects and issues with syphilis in the Las Vegas community on April 16, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas diocese IDs 33 ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse
The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas released a list on Friday of 33 “credibly accused” of sexual abuse who at some point served in the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD Arbor View meeting
The Clark County School Board hears from the public about racial tensions at Arbor View High School on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Amelia Park-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of autistic student battle Clark County School District
Joshua and Britten Wahrer, parents of a special education student, are battling the Clark County School District for the right to equip their son with a monitoring device. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Metro homeless outreach a shift in strategy
Lt. Joe Sobrio discusses the new homeless outreach team for Metro. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prayer for Opportunity Scholarships
Las Vegas students and adults hold a prayer meeting about the Opportunity Scholarship program on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Solar scams on the rise in Nevada
As Nevada’s solar industry has made a resurgence, solar scammers have followed suit.
Clark County schools and the late bus issue
Year after year, late or no-show buses in the Clark County School District draw the ire of parents and students alike. One year the problem even prompted a parent to crack a school bus window in frustration over a late drop-off. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 southbound congested near Primm Sunday afternoon
Drivers heading toward California on Interstate 15 should expect heavy traffic and a 13-mile backup Sunday afternoon.
Learning lifesaving skills in advance of fire season
Students and firefighters attend a training session at Fire Station 80 in Blue Diamond, Saturday, March 30, 2019. The training session helps volunteer firefighters obtain necessary annual certification to work wild fires.
Car restoration behind prison walls
Inmates share their experiences working for the Southern Desert Correctional Center auto body shop in Indian Springs while learning valuable skills.
Parent remembers Las Vegas boy killed by car
People visit a memorial at the intersection of South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue at at Faiss Park Wednesday, March 27, 2019, where Jonathan Smith, 12, of Las Vegas, died after he was struck while crossing Fort Apache Monday. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Couple left with surprise medical bills after visit to the hospital
Michael Pistiner took his wife, Marta Menendez-Pistiner, to the ER in January after she fainted twice and appeared to be having a seizure. Despite paying $856 monthly for health insurance, the two, self-employed musicians, were stuck with more than $5,700 in hospital and doctor bills after than hour-and-a-half visit. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Las Vegas police brief the media on fatal crash
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Nick Farese addresses the media about a car accident at South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue that left one minor dead and one hospitalized on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Arbor View parent talks about racial issues at the school
Lawanna Calhoun, a former Arbor View parent, talks about the state of the school. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Foley talks about 30 years of living HIV-positive
Jim Foley, who was diagnosed as HIV positive 30 years ago, talks at his home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic Slows to a Crawl on I-15S Near Primm
Traffic slowed to a crawl around 2:30p Sunday, on I-15S near Primm, Nevada.
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
Mylar Balloon Demo
NV Energy presented a demonstration Wednesday to depict the damage that can be caused by the release of Mylar balloons.
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing