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California's Unprecedented Fire Cleanup Project Begins

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Debbie Wolfe stacks some china to take with her, that once belonged to her grandmother, found in the burned ruins of her home, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Santa Rosa, Calif.

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Sonoma County residents who fled raging wildfires are gradually returning to their neighborhoods and government agencies are taking the first steps to restore their properties.

This week federal hazardous waste crews will start conducting sweeps for things like propane tanks and refrigerators. The second step will be debris removal, which will be funded in part by homeowners' insurance companies and government funds will cover the rest.  

Eric Lamoureux with California's Office of Emergency Services said his office will remove an unprecedented amount of debris.

"And we're just asking the public to trust that we've done this countless times across California, never on this scale, and that's why we've mobilized support from the federal government as well," Lamoureux said. "But we're committed to getting this done as quickly and efficiently as we can."

At a recent community meeting in Santa Rosa, he encouraged residents to sign up for a state cleanup instead of working through an insurance company to do it themselves.

"I know there's a desire to do that, you don't want to wait for us," he said. "But we've done these projects time and again throughout California and the more we can get the entire community on board, the better off your home site is gonna be and your community is gonna be on the back end."

He expects the neighborhoods will be cleared by early 2018.

Residents must sign and submit a "Right of Entry" form to allow agencies on their properties.

Sonoma County's Director of Environmental Health Christine Sosko said the county is developing a plan for residents who want to opt-out of the state's debris removal program. She says people who decide to clean up their properties on their own must meet the same standards as the state's process.

The City of Santa Rosa is holding a press conference Monday about the debris removal process at 2:30 p.m. at the Rattigan State Building, 50 D Street, Santa Rosa.

Find more information about the debris removal process in various counties affected by wildfires here.

 wildfiresCalifornia wildfire

Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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