Napa County fire survivors frustrated by permit challenge delays

Frustration is mounting in the fire zones, from victims who want to clear their lots but can't get permits.

They are worried that the onset of wet weather will only make the job more difficult and expensive.

"What was here, is gone. We have to start our life brand new," said Paige Fuller of Napa County, looking out at the ruins of her Berryessa home.

Fuller is a survivor of the Hennessey Fire in August, one of several making up the LNU Lightning Complex, set by a barrage of lightning strikes that torched almost every corner of the Bay Area.

"Our frustration is we want to rock and roll, we want to get going on a rebuild but we're stuck in the mud," said husband, Russell Fuller.

The Fullers already have completed soil engineering, and have plans and a contractor to rebuild their home of five years.

But they are idled.

"This is holding us back from progress, knowing there is light at the other end of the tunnel that we're going to get through this," said Paige Fuller.

The LNU Complex raged for six weeks in five counties and leveled almost 1,500 structures.

When embers cooled, household hazards were removed from burned-out properties.

That included propane tanks, paint, asbestos and batteries.

The Fullers cleared that milestone a month ago, but have been waiting ever since for a permit to move into Phase 2 of debris removal.  

"We need that, we're go-getters, we're going to do this thing, we're holding our heads high and we need the permit so we can remove this debris," Russell said.

The Fullers know they're not alone, badgering county officials about the delay.

"We share the frustration and we're working as quickly as possible," responded Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, whose District 4 includes the fire zone.

Pedroza explains local officials are waiting on FEMA and state-approved guidelines, unique to every fire, before granting local permits for the large excavations, either done by CAL EPA or a private contractor.

"I can understand the desire to move quickly but I can tell you every fire is different, every incident is different, and soil is different throughout Napa County," said Pedroza.

He acknowledges he's concerned about the onset of winter weather and erosion but doesn't want safety sacrificed for speed.  

"It's for the sake of someone rebuilding their family home and not having to worry about hazardous materials seeping into their infrastructure five or ten years from now," said Pedroza. 

But the Fullers are skeptical.

"This is not the first bar-b-que around here, where are these guidelines?," questioned Russell.

They point out their neighborhood had wildfire sweep through as recently as 2017, so they wonder how new guidelines might differ. 

And they are irked to hear other counties affected by the August firestorms are moving ahead with debris removal on their own, without waiting. 

"This mess is hard to see every day when you want to move on, and that's all we want, to move forward," said Paige, who has been vocal with local and elected officials.

"If they were in our position and their houses were gone, they would have their permits, they would not be in this position," she asserts.

Supervisor Pedroza says he has been assured state guidelines are almost finalized and will be issued within days.

None too soon for survivors who find doing something preferable to dwelling on their loss.

"How nice it would be to sit on our porch, just sit on our porch but there's no porch to sit on," said Paige Fuller.

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU