​​Wildfire Disaster Debris Removal

Hazardous Waste and Debris Removal​

Authority

On September 16, 2020, the County Health Officer declared a local health emergency in Santa Clara County due to the threat to public health caused by widespread hazardous waste and debris from the SCU Lightning Complex Fires. On November 17, 2020, the County Board of Supervisors adopted an urgency ordinance providing requirements for the removal of hazardous waste and other dangerous debris caused by the Fires from private properties in unincorporated Santa Clara County. The County Department of Environmental Health (DEH) is the lead agency managing removal of fire debris in the County.

Overview

Many who have lost their homes or suffered damage from the SCU Lightning Complex fires want to begin the rebuilding process as soon as possible. However, it is critical that this work be done safely and in a timely manner. The Department of Environmental Health has prepared this information to provide you with an overview of wildfire debris removal operations and requirements.

Sites where residences and other buildings were damaged by fire are often toxic and include hazardous waste from household items such as batteries, compressed gas cylinders, pesticides, fertilizers, cleaning chemicals, pool chemicals, paints, thinners, aerosol cans, asbestos construction materials, electronic wastes, and more.  This hazardous waste must be removed, transported, and disposed of by properly licensed professionals before any other debris from fire-damaged structures may be disturbed or removed. Improper removal or disturbance of hazardous waste and burn ash is against the law and can jeopardize both your health and your eligibility for financial assistance with cleanup.

The safe clean-up of fire-damaged properties occurs in the following two phases, described in more detail below. Both phases are mandatory, and wildfire debris removal work may not take place except as authorized under the urgency ordinance.

  • Phase 1: Removal of Household Hazardous Waste
  • Phase 2: Removal of Fire-Related Ash and Debris

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Phase 1: Removal of Hazardous Waste

Phase 1: Removal of Hazardous Waste for the SCU Lightning Complex fires has been completed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“U.S. EPA”), together with State agencies, has completed the Phase 1 survey, removal, and disposal of household hazardous waste at properties affected by the SCU Lightning Complex fires in Santa Clara County.  Phase 1 work was performed at no direct cost to the property owner.

Eligible parcels were automatically enrolled in Phase I cleanup and identified on the following website here:

The following factsheet provides answers to the most common questions about Phase 1.

You can view Phase 1 household hazardous waste removal activities in the County using the map linked above.

If you have any questions about Phase 1 cleanup, please call DEH at (408) 918-1977 or send us an email at [email protected].

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Phase 2: Removal of Fire-Related Ash and Debris

Once U.S. EPA has removed household hazardous waste from properties in Phase 1, property owners must arrange for the removal of other debris and ash from damaged or destroyed structures, as well as damaged trees (“Hazard Trees”) that pose an immediate threat of falling onto or obstructing site access by work crews or falling onto a public right of way or public infrastructure.  Certain other fire debris that poses a risk to human health or the environment must also be removed as discussed below. This phase is called Phase 2 debris removal.

There are two ways for property owners to carry out Phase 2 removal of fire-related ash and debris and Hazard Trees.  You may opt into the Consolidated Debris Removal Program, through which State and Federal agencies and their contractors will remove ash, debris, and Hazard Trees from your property at no cost to you, except that property owners must reimburse the federal government with any insurance payouts they received for the work. Or you can hire your own private contractors to perform this work for you with approval by the Department of Environmental Health (“Private Contractor Program”).

February 1, 2021 was the deadline to enroll in either the Consolidated Debris Removal Program or the Private Contractor Program. If your property has structures that were damaged or destroyed by the SCU Lightning Complex Fires, you were required to enroll in one of these programs by February 1, 2021. See below for enrollment and cleanup details.

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Consolidated Debris Removal Program

Cleanup of all 76 properties in Santa Clara County enrolled in the Consolidated Debris Removal Program has been completed.

In Phase 2 of the Consolidated Debris Removal Program, State and Federal agencies working with the State’s Debris Removal Task Force coordinate the removal of fire-related ash and debris from your property at no direct cost to you. Participation in the Consolidated Debris Removal Program is strongly encouraged.

To participate in Phase 2 of the Consolidated Debris Removal Program, property owners were required to fill out and sign the Right of Entry form provided below and return it to DEH by February 1, 2021. The Right of Entry form provides permission to government agencies and their contractors to enter your property to conduct the debris removal work. Property owners do not pay anything out of pocket, though you will need to reimburse the government with any insurance payments that you receive for the debris removal work.

Debris from destroyed or seriously damaged homes, vehicles and boats, non-commercial barns, sheds, foundations, Hazard Trees, basements, and chimneys are typically eligible for removal through the Consolidated Debris Removal Program. The following handout provides more detail about the types of debris eligible for removal through the Consolidated Debris Removal Program:

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (“CalOES”) has also provided answers to frequently asked questions about the Consolidated Debris Removal Program.

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Insurance Reimbursement

If your property was cleaned up through the Consolidated Debris Removal Program, it’s time to take a closer look into your insurance policy as you prepare to rebuild. The Right of Entry Permit Form that you signed for participation in the Consolidated Debris Removal Program requires that insurance proceeds specifically identified for debris removal be remitted to the County to reimburse debris removal costs.

All debris removal services through the Program were provided at no direct cost to the property owner. But to avoid a duplication of benefits provided by the State, either you or your insurance company may be required to provide payment from your policy for the amount that is designated for debris removal.

If you do not have insurance, no reimbursement is required. In addition, no insurance proceeds designated for rebuilding will be collected.

Please read these FAQs for further information about insurance reimbursement requirements. As explained in the FAQs, you must do the following:

  1. Review the insurance policy information disclosed in your Right of Entry Form for accuracy and completeness. You must inform DEH of any homeowner’s insurance for your fire-damaged property; automobile insurance for cars, boats, trailers, or other vehicles damaged on your property; and any secondary insurance or personal property insurance for other fire-damaged items on your property.
  2. If the policy information provided in your Right of Entry Permit Form was incomplete or incorrect, please notify DEH by calling (408) 918-1977 or send us an email at [email protected] to correct it.
  3. File an insurance claim against policies that provide coverage for debris removal work on your fire-damaged property.
  4. Inform your insurance companies that you have assigned certain proceeds for debris removal work on your property to the County.
  5. If you are directly issued insurance proceeds for debris and hazard tree removal or vehicle removal from your property, you must inform the Department of Environmental Health of the amount of such proceeds so the County can determine whether remittance is required. Please notify DEH by calling (408) 918-1977 or send us an email at [email protected].

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Private Contractor Program

DEADLINES:

February 1, 2021: Deadline to enroll in private contractor program

September 30, 2021: Deadline to complete cleanup under Private Contractor Program

If you are ineligible for or chose not to participate in the Consolidated Debris Removal Program but your property has fire debris from burned structures or certain other fire-related hazards, you will still be required to clean up your property and you will need to do so at your own expense and in compliance with specific requirements, standards, and deadlines.

If debris removal is required on your property but you do not participate in the Consolidated Debris Removal Program, you must either: (1) submit an application and proposed Workplan for your property to the Department of Environmental Health to conduct debris removal through the Private Contractor Program, or (2) submit an application to the Department of Environmental Health for a conditional exemption from Private Contractor Program requirements for your property.

The deadline to submit your Private Contractor Program Application and proposed Workplan or submit your Application for a Conditional Exemption to DEH was February 1, 2021. If your property has qualifying debris but you missed this deadline, contact DEH immediately to enroll.

The Department of Environmental Health will promptly review and process your application. You may not begin debris removal from your property until your application is approved.

Covered Debris:

Under the County Urgency Ordinance, all private properties in the unincorporated area of the County must be enrolled in a wildfire debris removal program if they contain any of the following wildfire debris:

  • Fire debris resulting from structures that were damages or destroyed by the wildfires.
  • Hazard Trees. A Hazard Tree is a tree that is so damaged by the wildfires that its structural integrity is compromised and it either (a) poses an immediate threat of falling onto work crews or obstructing their access to the debris clearance site, or (b) present a threat to public health or safety due to risk of falling onto a public right of way or public infrastructure.
  • Other fire debris or hazards for which removal is required by DEH. Additional fire debris requiring removal include fire-damaged boats or vehicles, fire-damaged chemical or hazardous material storage tanks or vessels, and other fire-damaged metals and concrete. See the Debris Removal Application and Workplan for additional specifications about covered debris.

If your property had any of the covered debris set forth above but you conducted cleanup at your own expense before the Urgency Ordinance went into effect on November 17, 2020, you must contact DEH for a clearance inspection to confirm that your property has been cleared of covered debris and is safe for re-occupancy. Building permits will not be issued for your property until DEH confirms completion of cleanup.

(1) Private Contractor Program Application and Workplan

Debris removal work under the Private Contractor Program must be performed by the property owner or a licensed contractor in accordance with local, State, and federal requirements. Property owners will not be reimbursed with public funds for any portion of remediation or debris removal work conducted under the Private Contractor Program.

Certain Private Contractor Program cleanup activities may only be performed by a licensed professional. For instance, all properties participating in the Private Contractor Program must be assessed for asbestos or asbestos-containing material by a Certified Asbestos Consultant. Further, any hazardous waste remaining on the property after the completion of Phase 1 must be identified and disposed of by a certified hazardous waste contractor. You will need to disclose the contractors you will use in your ​Application and Workplan. Work conducted under the Private Contractor Program must be in accordance with the Application and Workplan approved by DEH for the property.

To enroll in the Private Contractor Program, complete the Private Contractor Program Application and Template Workplan linked below and return the completed and signed documents to DEH as soon as possible, either: (1) by mail to Department of Environmental Health—Debris Removal, 1555 Berger Drive Suite 300, San Jose CA 95112, or (2) by email to [email protected].

You will not be allowed to rebuild on your property until DEH has issued a certification that debris removal on your property is complete.​

(2) Conditional Exemption from Private Contractor Program

Property owners may apply for a conditional exemption from the Private Contractor Program if the debris on their property is limited to fences, non-structural wood material, and non-residential structures less than 120 square feet that did not contain hazardous substances such as paint, fuels, oils, pesticides, herbicides, propane, or asbestos. Additional exemptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis for non-residential structures greater than 120 square feet that did not contain any hazardous materials and pose a minimal risk to human health and the environment.

A verification inspection by the Department of Environmental Health may be required to confirm site conditions after receipt of the application and prior to DEH’s approval of an exemption. No work plan is required if an exemption is issued. Debris removal work conducted under an approved conditional exemption must comply with requirements issued by DEH and included in the documents Requirements for Conditional Exemption from County of Santa Clara Private Contractor Debris Removal Program. Property owners will not be reimbursed with public funds for any portion of remediation or debris removal work conducted pursuant to an approved exemption.

To apply for a conditional exemption from the Private Contractor Program, return the completed and signed Conditional Exemption Application form linked below to DEH as soon as possible, either: (1) by mail to Department of Environmental Health—Debris Removal, 1555 Berger Drive Suite 300, San Jose CA 95112, or (2) by email to [email protected].

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Temporary Occupancy

If you have suffered the loss or damage of a home because of the Fires, you may want to move back onto your property as quickly as possible. But doing so before fire debris has been removed may seriously threaten your and your family’s health and safety if precautions are not taken.

If fire debris has not been removed from your property, you may install and reside in temporary emergency housing on your property so long as you follow these rules:

  1. The temporary emergency housing is a mobile home, recreational vehicle (including travel trailer), or movable tiny home.
  2. The temporary emergency housing is set back from the ash footprint of any burned structure by at least 150 feet (or by an alternative setback approved by the County for your parcel).
  3. The temporary emergency housing does not expose residents to risks from Hazard Trees.
  4. Obtain approval by DEH for a septic system connection or use of a temporary holding tank for the temporary emergency housing.
  5. Vacate the vicinity of debris removal operations while they are underway.

Please note that the County has waived fees and inspection costs for installation and use of temporary emergency housing. If necessary given site conditions, the County may impose additional rules for temporary occupancy.

 

Stay Up To Date

This webpage will be updated with additional guidance, forms, and resources as they become available.  For additional questions on debris removal, you may call us at (408)918-1977 or send us an email at [email protected].

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Wildfire Debris Removal Urgency Ordinance

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