By Edward N. JohnsonMay 5, 2018
As U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris removal operations near completion across Northern California, following last year's historic wildfires, many survivors are beginning the task of rebuilding their homes and getting their lives back to normal.
According to officials, nearly 9,000 structures were destroyed by the more than 250 wildfires that ravaged the area on the evening of Oct. 8, 2017.
Soon thereafter, the President signed a Federal disaster declaration setting into motion the largest debris cleanup in the state's history since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
In addition to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and multiple state and local entities responded to the emergency. As part of this effort, FEMA also called upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to execute the massive debris removal program in partnership with the Cal OES in Napa, Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma counties.
Since that time, all major debris has been removed.
"It's hard to imagine how much debris a natural disaster like this creates until you see it firsthand," said Lt. Col. Travis J. Rayfield, commander of the USACE Sonoma Recovery Field Office. "As we approach completion of our mission, we've cleared more than 2.2 million tons of debris to help survivors continue down the road to recovery as quickly and safely as possible."
Of course, a recovery effort of this size, scope and complexity does not come without its share of difficult challenges and hurdles to overcome.
According to David Andersen, a long-time resident of the area who lost his home and during last year's wildfire, one of the hardest parts of the recovery process was concerns about whether he would have sufficient insurance to cover the rebuilding costs, as well as what it would take to prepare his property for rebuilding.
"Had Federal and state agencies not helped, there is no way I could have covered the debris removal costs without significant out-of-pocket expenses," said Andersen.
Now that his debris is cleared, Andersen is already working to rebuild his home by starting construction on a new foundation in accordance with local and state laws.
In Anderson's case, that means removing sufficient soil to accommodate the 100 cubic yards of cement it will take to construct a 24" deep "beam and grid" foundation.
Depending on the location, terrain and type of house, foundations may be designed differently so decisions like his are being made on a case-by-case basis.
"I've had some things I could complain about, but when you have a disaster the size of this one, the fact that so much debris was successfully removed is amazing," said Anderson. "I really appreciate all the people that came out here to help."
Officials encourage property owners to contact their county administrators' office with any questions they may have about the rebuilding process and to visit California's wildfire recovery website at WildfireRecovery.org for advice and information found there to help property owners make informed rebuilding decisions.