A step-by-step pictorial of the Wildfire Debris Removal Process

Published March 12, 2018

Many people from various disciplines within the Corps of Engineers have been called upon to go – or have volunteered to go – lend a helping hand with the Northern California wildfire cleanup process in the counties of Lake, Napa, Mendocino and Sonoma.
More than 5,000 homes and structures were reduced to rubble in these counties, and the gargantuan task of cleaning the remaining debris is ongoing even as of March 2018. Of course it takes a lot more than a shovel and a pickup truck to clear a homeowners’ property.
The following pictorial illustrates the process involved in getting a single property cleared for a homeowner to rebuild on-site.

1 – In Phase I of the process, household hazardous waste is removed by the Environmental Protection Agency in Sonoma and Napa Counties, and by the California Department of Toxic Substances in Lake and Mendocino Counties.



2 – Once a property owner signs a right-of-entry form, the Corps and its contractors are able to access each property.


3 – With permission to access the parcel, the Corps oversees the second phase of debris cleanup. Corps contractors remove all fire-related debris and 3 – 5 inches of soil to remove potential contaminants.



4 – Once the lot is clear of debris, soil samples are collected and sent to a state lab for testing.


5 – When returned soil samples confirm there are no remaining contaminants on site, straw wattles and hydromulch are placed on the parcel to prevent erosion.



6 – Vehicles are hauled off at varying stages of the debris removal process. The Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency and California Office of Emergency Services work with local law enforcement and the California Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure removal.


7 – The Corps of Engineers conducts a final quality assurance check before notifying the county that debris removal is complete.


8 – Once the county notifies a homeowner that their property is ready, homeowners are freed up to begin the rebuilding process.