Hazardous waste cleanup gets support

EPA contractors sift through the ashes of a Mountain Ranch property destroyed by the Butte Fire.

The Environmental Protection Agency is now fielding teams to assist state authorities with hazardous waste clean-up at properties damaged or destroyed by the Butte Fire.

The EPA is working alongside the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to clear away ammunition, propane tanks or any other potentially flammable or toxic material from the sites of homes that have been burned. Three teams from each department then transport the materials to a command post by the Toyon Industrial Center outside of Valley Springs.

Daniel Shane, a federal on-scene coordinator, is in charge of one of the cleanup teams currently active in Calaveras County. Shane said that EPA teams first mobilized in Calaveras County on Oct. 5, but it wasn’t until Oct. 12 when the EPA cleanup teams were fully operational and working with EPA-licensed contractors.

Shane said that a total of 888 structures of some sort have been recorded damaged by the Butte Fire. That count, Shane said, includes properties where outbuildings have been damaged or destroyed. Of those, the owners of 554 properties have submitted right-of-entry permits, and 403 have already been cleared of hazardous household waste.

Shane said that once EPA and DTSC teams finish hazardous waste clean-up, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery will remove debris including metal, ashes and, in many cases, damaged home foundations.

Floyd Winters is the owner of one site visited by an EPA hazardous waste clean-up team. Winters has lived in Mountain Ranch since 1999 on a property off of East Murray Creek Road. An EPA team first visited his property Monday to begin removing propane tanks and oil barrels from the property.

Winters’ home was destroyed by the Butte Fire, and he and his wife Betty Winters are currently staying with friends in Mokelumne Hill. Winters said he plans to rebuild.

The slow pace of the cleanup so far is frustrating to some Butte Fire survivors.

“How long will we have to wait to rebuild?” asked Tiffany DeAngelis of Mountain Ranch. DeAngelis said two homes were destroyed on her property and can’t get a temporary house from the FEMA until the debris is removed.

Calaveras County Environmental Management Agency Director Jason Boetzer said on Tuesday that in addition to the 403 properties cleared of hazardous household waste, seven have finished debris cleanup. Four of those seven have already had soil samples take and sent to a laboratory. If the test results come back clean, those four homes will be the first to complete the fire debris cleanup process and be ready for reconstruction.

Boetzer said the scale of the cleanup is rapidly expanding. He said that six teams were working at the beginning of the week and that was scheduled to double to 12 by next week and to 24 teams by the beginning of November.

Boetzer said that on Oct. 26, authorities would hold another class to certify local contractors to handle hazardous materials and participate in the cleanup work. Boetzer said his goal is to complete the home debris cleanup by late January.

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