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
Phase 1: Removal of Hazardous Waste
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“U.S. EPA”) is currently performing 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 is completed at no direct cost to the property owner.
Eligible parcels are 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 track Phase 1 household hazardous waste removal progress using the map linked above.
If your property has debris from structures that were damaged or destroyed by the SCU Lightning Complex Fires, please contact the U.S. EPA Hotline immediately at (415) 793-8794 to arrange for U.S. EPA to access your property to conduct this free hazardous waste cleanup.
If you have any questions about your property’s eligibility for Phase 1 or about arranging for access to your property for Phase 1 cleanup, please call DEH at (408) 918-3411, or send us an email at DEHWildfire@cep.sccgov.org.
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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. 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 is 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 must enroll in one of these programs by February 1, 2021. See below for enrollment details.
Consolidated Debris Removal Program
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, you must 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. You will 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.
Please return the completed and signed form 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 DEHWildfire@cep.sccgov.org
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.
We expect Phase 2 of the Consolidated Debris Removal Program to begin in early December. Property owners who do not return a completed, signed form to DEH by February 1, 2021 will not be able to participate in this free-of-charge debris removal program.
Private Contractor Program
If you are ineligible for or chose not 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. You must either submit your Private Contractor Program Application and proposed Workplan or submit your Application for a Conditional Exemption to DEH no later than February 1, 2021.
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.
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 DEHWildfire@cep.sccgov.org
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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:
- The temporary emergency housing is a mobile home, recreational vehicle (including travel trailer), or movable tiny home.
- 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).
- The temporary emergency housing does not expose residents to risks from Hazard Trees.
- Obtain approval by DEH for a septic system connection or use of a temporary holding tank for the temporary emergency housing.
- 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)918-3411, or send us an email at DEHWildfire@cep.sccgov.org.
Wildfire Recovery and Safety Information Related Links
Wildfire Debris Removal Urgency Ordinance