Massive cleanup of wildfire burned cars in Sonoma County, cause still unknown

Some of the ugliest of many disheartening sights in Santa Rosa's Coffey Park are rapidly disappearing as clean up accelerates starting next week. Unlike some flood cars, none of Coffey Park's damaged vehicles will even end up in a car lot unless they become part of the metal used in building new ones. 

A huge fork lift proved to be the best thing to pick up cars whose tires and often wheels were incinerated or melted in the firestorm that ravaged Coffey Park. Time and time again, they were picked up from public streets, loaded on the backs of trucks and carted away because they are very much in the way. 

"The construction people can't start doing their work with the cars in the way and on the street," said Joe Cream of Creams Dismantling.

The numbers incredible – 247 cars burned up in the streets. But that's just a fraction that doesn’t account for the nearly twice as many sitting in driveways or inside burned down garages. 

"There's about 247 cars on the street that we're doing right now for the city of Santa Rosa, and there's about 600 cars on private properties,” cream said. “Now on the private property, we're having a little problem with paperwork. As soon as we get that taken care of, we're gonna start on the private property.”

The cars will be broken down and all non-metals will be discarded. The steel, aluminum and other metals will be shredded and sent back to steel mills for reprocessing into new metals.

Speaking of private property, cleanup is moving at a rapid pace as huge claws grab debris and pile it into semi-hauling-rigs, much of it going to dumps specializing in toxic materials. 

On one barren lot, the basic cleanup is done. A car still has to be removed, but everything else has been taken away. Before the homeowner can actually get this property back, soil sampling and testing has to be done to make sure it's completely non-toxic. Then, and only then, can they rebuild. Throughout the vast Coffey Park neighborhood, many folks say they intend to do just that: rebuild.

In a related matter, as the clean-up is still in the very early stages, forensic investigators are looking for the fire's cause. The Tubbs Fire killed at least 22 people, burned 37,000 acres and destroyed 5100 structures; 2800 of them in the City of Santa Rosa

There are some theories that windblown electrical equipment failed, sparking California's worst ever wildfire. Numerous law firms have advertised for homeowner clients, specifically stating that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) might be culpable and responsible for the damage.

This week PG&E filed a motion which contained one bomb shell sentence on page nine, stating that "although the cause of the Tubbs Fire remains under investigation, preliminary investigations suggest that this fire might have been caused by electrical equipment that was owned, installed and maintained by a third party not named in these actions." 

This statement clearly suggests that PG&E has information that electrical equipment not owned, operated or maintained by the utility might have started the fire, which if true, would take it off the legal liability hook.  

"The CPUC and Cal Fire investigations are still ongoing.  They haven't determined the cause of any of these fires yet and out motion speaks for itself," said Keith Stephens, a PG&E spokesman.

Bottom line, if equipment on the property owner's side of the electric meter fails, then it's the property owner's equipment that could be to blame and liability for the fire would be established against the property owner. Only if the fire started on PG&E's side of the meter, such as a fallen wire or blown transformer, would the utility be liable. 

This is crucial to PG&E's financial future and very possibly your electric bill.