If your home was destroyed or significantly damaged during a California wildfire, you now face the difficult task of clearing and cleaning up your land before you can rebuild. Depending on your situation, this can be a significant challenge. Here is what you need to know.
There is Help
You may not be personally responsible for clearing your land. Cleaning up your property after a wildfire takes special equipment and preparation, which is why there is government help. You may not need to rent equipment or a hire a private company to come in. Instead, you need to determine the local agency that is coordinating with the California and federal government to handle both hazardous waste and debris and ash removal. You may need to work with this local agency to ensure that your property is taken care of.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), states the first phase of this operation is household hazardous waste cleanup. The agency in charge depends on the county. It is either the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The second phase of the operation is debris and ash removal, which will be handled by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). This was scheduled to begin by Nov. 1, depending on when the hazardous waste was removed and the local governments gaining permission to enter individual property owners’ land.
- Butte County: Collection and removal by DTSC began Nov. 2. Debris and ash removal by CalRecycle.
- Lake County: Collection and removal by DTSC began Oct. 23. Debris and ash removal by USACE.
- Mendocino County: Collection and removal by DTSC began Oct. 26. Debris and ash removal by USACE.
- Napa County: Collection and removal by EPA began Oct. 26. Debris and ash removal by USACE.
- Nevada County: Collection and removal by DTSC is complete. Debris and ash removal by CalRecycle.
- Sonoma County: Collection and removal by EPA began Oct. 27. Debris and ash removal by USACE.
- Yuba County: Collection and removal by DTSC began Oct. 23. Debris and ash removal by CalRecycle.
Government Cleanup May Require Some of Your Insurance Proceeds
The initial costs of the cleanup operation will be taken on by California and the federal agencies. However, if your insurance policy covers debris removal, you are supposed to tell local officials. In the future, you may be required to give a portion of your insurance proceeds to a government agency. Before turning over any of your insurance proceeds, speak with an experienced California insurance attorney. You may only be required to remit an insurance payout that was specifically intended for debris removal, nothing else.
If You Remove Debris Yourself
If you wish to remove household waste, debris, or ash from your property yourself, or you were unable to obtain government assistance for various reasons, then you are entitled to remove these things from your property by hiring a private contractor. You should avoid cleaning up your property yourself as you may not have training in how to handle household hazardous waste property or how to avoid injury during this process.
If you work with a contractor, you must obtain all of the necessary permits and licenses. Be sure to speak with an experienced contractor and attorney to ensure you handle cleanup lawfully.
You may be able to go back to your property to look for surviving personal property. You should only do this if it is safe and you have the property protective equipment. Always wear long sleeves and pants if you return to your property. Also have eye protection, facemasks, and gloves.
Ash can be a significant health hazard. You need to protect your skin, nose, throat, and lungs from it. If you are going to sift through the debris, you should have a well-fitted mask certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), rated N-95. These are available at many hardware stores or online. Be particularly careful if you have asthma or any other respiratory issues.
Do You Have Legal Questions After a California Wildfire?
If you have any questions regarding your rights or responsibilities after a California wildfire destroyed or damaged your home, caused you injury, or lead to the death of a loved one, do not hesitate to contact Brod Law Firm at (800) 427-7020.
(image courtesy of Ant Rozetsky)