As milestones go, this is a somewhat disheartening one: A California paper reports that one million tons of debris from the fires last October in the northern part of the state have now been removed. Good that it’s done, of course, but the number just emphasizes the scope of the destruction.
The debris removal spans four counties and has so far involved more than 3,000 lots. Officials estimate they’re about 63% done. And this is just phase I of the process—the clearing of potentially hazardous waste. Phase II will involve removal of additional debris, including concrete foundations.
Just after the fires last October, Arturo Santiago, editor of MSW Management, wrote about the magnitude of the cleanup effort to come, including the difficulty of removing toxic materials—paints, solvents, batteries, electronic waste, and materials containing asbestos. He also included videos showing the extent of the fire damage.
On lots where debris has been removed, the next step is soil testing and putting erosion control measures in place. This is a process that will soon be repeated in southern California in the areas affected by the Thomas Fire. Although the Thomas Fire was the largest on record in the state, in terms of the acres that were burned, it actually destroyed fewer structures than the October fires in Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties. Still, as the mudslides in Montecito showed, finding ways to stabilize the burned areas will be a priority.