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Calaveras County Says Hefty Butte Fire Cleanup Invoices Aren't Bills

Bob Moffit / Capital Public Radio

Sal Fichera shows how many areas near his home burned during the Butte Fire in 2015. At least 854 homes and structures were destroyed.

Bob Moffit / Capital Public Radio

Calaveras County has been sending invoices to people who asked for help clearing their properties after the 2015 Butte Fire. The dollar amount has shocked many residents who are unsure if the paperwork is a bill.

This week, Calaveras County is sending residents another letter with a fact sheet explaining the invoice and the cleanup process.

Sal Fichera has lived in Calaveras County for 30 years.

His home was virtually untouched, but he lost a pump house for the well, a chicken coop and some other items.

"It burnt out two houses over there and meanwhile it was behind that ridgeline up there. So, it burnt out that house."

Fichera signed up for a free program with Calaveras County [Environmental Health] to haul the debris away.

He says the crews arrived about a month later.

"It was an army of more equipment than I have ever seen: grading equipment and trucks and stuff and personnel and little X-File people in their white, Tyvek suits."

He says they not only removed the debris and containers, but they also tested the soil and then came back twice more to test it again. They were worried, he says, by the levels of arsenic.

He says all told, more than 20 people visited and spent a total of about 24 hours.

Then he got the invoice.

"Over $86,000."

After the initial shock and some phone calls, he discovered the invoice is not a bill.

Mel Knight is the Butte Fire community liaison. He says more than half of the 850 people who signed up for the program had insurance. The invoice is either purely informational or is for the insurance companies. The program is free.

"One of the stipulations though is if they were to receive insurance proceeds specific for that purpose, the federal law required that those be turned over to the agency that was supporting the cleanup," Knight says.

The total cleanup cost about $100 million. Insurance will cover $4 million or $5 million of that. Cal Recycle and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pick up the rest.

Knight says cleanup has been expensive, up to $300,000 in some cases.


Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob reports on all things northern California and Nevada. His coverage of police technology, local athletes, and the environment has won a regional Associated Press and several Edward R. Murrow awards.   Read Full Bio 

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