County and homeowners responsible for Kincade Fire cleanup
WINDSOR, Calif. - Tuesday brings Phase 1 of the Kincade Fire clean-up. The fire burned for two weeks, took almost 80,000 acres and 374 structures, including 174 homes.
But because the damage wasn't severe enough, the cost of debris removal is falling on Sonoma County and affected land-owners.
Most survivors are still reeling from the loss of their houses.
"I was not prepared for this, it's a shock, this is my family's whole life here," said Ken Schmidt-Petersen, showing KTVU the debris of his mother's home outside Windsor.
But the cleanup cannot wait.
"The rains are going to come within a month or so, so it's a time element, where we need to make sure we get the ash out," said David Rabbitt, Chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
Household hazards go first: propane tanks, paints, solvents, batteries, asbestos siding.
Teams of 12 will sweep every burn site - not just houses but barns and outbuildings too.
The process could take up to three weeks.
"The first phase is free to the property owner, so the hazardous waste sweep is at no charge," said Rabbitt.
The county will pay a contractor $750,000, then ask for some state reimbursement later, once the hazards are gone.
"Everything they can see, they'll take out and that will allow phase two which is the debris cleanup itself," said Rabbitt.
The second round is an excavation: not just ash and debris but building foundations and toxic soil.
In 2017, FEMA brought in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to oversee the massive firestorm clean-up of thousands of homes.
But the Kincade fire, with fewer than 200 homes and far less infrastructure destroyed, does not qualify.
"Since this was not a federal disaster, there is no public program," said Rabbitt, "so it's got to be contracted by the property owner going forward and the state and county will be there to help every step of the way."
Property owners can hire a contractor or do their own cleanup provided they follow accepted environmental protocols.
"We'll make sure they understand here's how you do it, here's what you need to do, and we're here to help you," said Rabbitt.
Cleaning one site can cost a few hundred thousand dollars- generally covered by insurance- but officials don't want the financial burden to drive anyone away.
"We're making sure we're reaching out so we understand exactly what people need and assess their situation whether they're insured or not," said Rabbitt.
"We want to make sure their properties are safe so they can rebuild going forward."
And rebuilding is what many survivors want, undeterred by fire and loss, and still smitten with the beauty of Sonoma County.
"It is the best place in the world," said survivor Schmidt-Petersen,"right here, one of the best places."