Debris Removal after the 2020 Walbridge/Meyers Fires

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Debris Removal

The 2020 Walbridge and Meyers Fires have had a devastating impact on Sonoma County. The County is preparing to support the community in debris removal.

Clearing properties includes two steps:

Step 1: Household Hazardous Waste Sweep – completed by the State.
Step 2: Fire Debris Removal – completed by property owners with support from the County.

Community members should refrain from entering the burn footprint without personal protective equipment, and do not begin cleanup activities until authorized by the Department of Health Services, Environmental Health. Hazardous debris after a wildfire can be toxic, and improper transport and disposal of fire debris can create dangerous health impacts throughout the community.

Forms and Documents for Property Owners and Contractors

Property owners can download the Debris Removal Application and Sample Site Work Plan. Property owners should also download and review Debris Removal Requirements and Debris Removal Completion Certification. Applications and work plans must be approved by Environmental Health prior to beginning debris removal. Property owners may contact Environmental Health at (707) 565-6700 or EHDebrisRemoval@sonoma-county.org for questions regarding the application process.

You may qualify for an exemption to the debris removal requirements. Please review the Conditional Exemptions from Debris Removal Requirements to see if your property qualifies for an exemption. If you believe your property qualifies, please complete the Debris Removal Exemption Application and submit it to Environmental Health.

Frequently Asked Questions about Debris Removal

Search FAQs

Debris removal is broken down into two phases. 

  • Phase 1 is mandatory for all properties that were destroyed in the fire and will be conducted by the government with no cost to property owners. Phase 1 consists of a “household hazardous waste sweep” in which a certified contractor will enter your property and remove all hazardous materials (products that can catch fire, react, or explode under certain circumstances, or that are corrosive or toxic such as household hazardous waste). 
  • Phase 2 cannot begin before the Phase 1 Household Hazardous Waste Sweep has been completed and you have received approval from Sonoma County Environmental Health to begin the Phase 2 Debris Cleanup program for your property.  The Phase 2 cleanup is the removal of the remainder of debris on your property and will prepare your property for the rebuilding process to begin.

No. On August 24, 2020 the Sonoma County Health Officer, Dr. Sundari R. Mase issued an order advising community members to not enter the burn footprint of structures and to not begin clean-up activities until authorized by the Department of Health Services, Environmental Health. Hazardous debris after a wildfire can expose residents to toxic materials, and improper transport and disposal of fire debris can create dangerous health impacts throughout the community.

If your property is near a burned structure, but was not damaged please call your insurance company to follow up on what if any assessment you may need to take. You may also wish to consult a certified industrial hygienist to ensure your property is safe. To find a local certified industrial hygienist, please contact the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and select the Find a CIH near you button.

If the property owner or their insurance company need to remove a vehicle they can do so after Household Hazardous Waste removal (Phase 1) has been completed on their property. Extreme caution should be taken to not disturb the ash footprint. Vehicles must be disposed of in accordance with state and local requirements (e.g. county abatement process and at an appropriate landfill).

The Household Hazardous Sweeps (Phase 1) will be performed by the government using certified contractors. For Phase 2 debris removal, property owners can contact the California State Licensing Board to check if a contractor is licensed and insured.  Their telephone number is (800) 321-2752.

The Northern Engineering Contractors Association can provide you a list of contractors that can assist in developing your debris removal plan, including soil assessment and testing.  Their telephone number is (707) 546-5500.

North Coast Builders Exchange also has a list of contractors that can assist in debris removal plans.  Their telephone number is (707) 542-2027.

County crews and contractors will remove all fire-damaged trees within the public right-of-way that present an imminent risk to public safety and roadways. All trees categorized as “Moderate” risk will be left at this time.

Limited closures with reduced lanes and traffic control on site are possible so that crews can safely and efficiently move through the burn area. Please observe all road restrictions and sign up for road and traffic alerts at sonomacounty.ca.gov/TPW/Roads/.

At this time it is unknown whether the State or Federal government will offer such a program. 

We will update this page as soon as we get a definitive answer.

Yes, soil sampling will be required as part of Phase 2 and prior to your property being ready to rebuild. Because soils in Sonoma County have naturally occurring levels of asbestos and other chemicals, it is important to identify what elements were previously existing on your soil before the fire, such that the property can be brought back to native conditions. Guidelines, requirements and procedures to perform this work are included within the Sonoma County Department of Health Services Environmental Health document “Management of Sonoma County Wildfire Debris”.  Generally, this work consists of collecting baseline and confirmation samples under the responsible charge of a licensed geologist or engineer and having the soil analyzed at an analytical laboratory.

After the Household Hazardous Sweeps (Phase 1) have been conducted, and before debris clean up starts (Phase 2), property owners or the property contractor should clearly and visibly mark the location of their septic systems or water well systems associated with their property including the following:

  • Septic tanks
  • Pump tanks
  • Pretreatment units
  • Electrical components
  • Distribution boxes (if location is known)
  • Both the existing primary leach field area and (if known) the expansion leach field areas.
  • Any transmission lines from the septic tanks, pump tanks, pretreatment units to the leach field.
  • The location of any water wells.
  • The location of any water well lines from the water well to the buildings.

This process is a critical measure to help preserve the property’s septic system and to avoid costly replacements or repairs. Even the removal of small amounts of soil from leach fields can result in the area no longer being a feasible leach field. It is imperative that areas be marked and the location information be shared with the debris removal contractor.

If property owners do not know the location of their system, they can come into Permit Sonoma to look for property records. If there are no records available, customers can be provided with a list of certified contractors in the area who can identify the location of the properties septic system.

No property is exempt from the Household Hazardous Sweeps (Phase 1) Hazardous Waste Sweep. Your property may qualify for an exemption from Phase 2 of debris removal if the only burn debris on a parcel is from non-residential structures less than 120 square feet, fences, and non-structural wood material. No work plan is required as long as the structures did not contain paint, pesticides, herbicides, propane or other similar hazardous substances, and requirements listed in the Conditional Exemption from Sonoma County Debris Removal Requirements are followed.  A conditional exemption approval from the Department of Health Services, Environmental Health is required before any work on your site can begin.  Additional exemptions may be granted on a case by case basis where the structure is greater than 120 square feet and all material contained within the structure is inert. You may not apply for an exemption if the County has flagged your property as potentially containing Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) or asbestos.

As property owners begin the process of clean-up and rebuilding following the fires, it is your responsibility to control storm runoff. Property owners and contractors on burned lots and rebuild sites must prevent pollutants, including sediment, from entering storm drains, creeks, rivers, and wetlands.

Wattles and other Best Management Practices (BMPs) materials, such as straw, are available for purchase at various agriculture, garden supply and hardware stores. BMPs are used to keep pollutants from entering storm drains and our natural water bodies like creeks and rivers.

Visit Rain Ready for information and resources about how to be Rain Ready.

County Transportation and Public Works (TPW) vegetation specialists and certified arborists, in partnership with Cal Fire and PG&E foresters, will evaluate and remove burned trees that are an imminent threat to road users within the burned areas. The burned trees will be assessed to determine the level of damage and risk to public safety and roadways. Trees identified as a risk to public safety and property will be marked for removal and categorized as presenting an “Extreme” or “High” risk.

In some instances, the State or Federal governments may conduct a Phase 2 Debris Removal Program. The government will contract with debris haulers to remove the structural debris from your parcel, and conduct asbestos and soil tests to ensure any residual toxins from the burn are removed. In exchange for the government performing this service, property owners are asked to sign a “Right of Entry” form in which they agree that any insurance proceeds in a property owner’s homeowners insurance policy designated for debris removal will be turned over to the government. Property owners are not required to pay any additional money to the government other than designated debris proceeds in their policies.

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