Napa County’s big wildfire clean-up effort to remove the ashen remains of more than 500 burned-out homes is hitting the road.
Those who lost homes can either let the government haul away the debris or do the job themselves. George Porter decided he’d do it himself and as soon as possible.
“I don’t make a good victim,” Porter said. “I needed to take control of things.”
On Monday, a work crew from Krueger Bros. and Deming’s Demolition readied the cinders of Porter’s house to be trucked to Clover Flat Landfill near Calistoga in coming days.
The Atlas Fire turned Porter’s house from a multi-million-dollar Silverado stunner into wreckage. An 18-foot-tall stone arch that had been an entry feature to luxury now leads to an ash pit.
The Atlas Fire broke out the night of Oct. 8 and swept south toward Silverado. Porter and his wife, Kali, evacuated their house as the fire descended a nearby hill, a sight he compares to a thousand people with flamethrowers advancing.
But they didn’t know their home’s fate until the next day. Kali Porter saw the house burning on television, with the flames framed by the stone arch.
That arch proved a visual magnet to other media, as well.
“The house was the one that was like the poster child for the Napa fire on television,” George Porter said. “It was everywhere. It was in the Wall Street Journal. I had friends calling me from all over the world.”
On Monday, the stone arch finally came down, felled by the jaws of a bulldozer. It was no longer structurally sound and had to be removed anyway to make room for the big, debris-hauling equipment.
“I never thought I’d be witnessing something like this,” Kali Porter said as she stood on the front street watching. “It’s totally surreal.”
The Porters will live in a Silverado condominium while they watch a new house go up over the next two years or so. They are having an architect create a new floor plan.
One decision is whether to recreate that arch or forget about it, given how its image became tied to the fire.
“We don’t know yet,” George Porter said. “We have to really think a lot about that.”
He’s hoping other people will shake off the shock of loss and move quickly to rebuild. It’s important Napa begin to recover, he said.
Krueger Bros. and Deming’s Demolition must follow various rules when removing the debris of Porter’s house. They can’t simply show up and start scooping ash into a dump truck.
Contractors must file plans for dust control and storm water pollution prevention with the county. They must wet the ash and contain it within a tarp – using what county guidelines call the “burrito wrap method”—before transportation.
A lot of debris burrito wraps will be on the road in coming weeks and months, between private cleanup efforts such as the Porters’ and the government cleanup program.
Napa County reported Friday that six people had received private demolition permits and 209 people had filed for the government program. The deadline to apply for the government program is 5 p.m. Thursday.
The government program is overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. People sign right-of-entry forms and give the government any insurance coverage for debris removal. The government does the removal at no cost to them, no matter what the insurance situation.
Corps spokeswoman Nancy Allen said crews are already doing site assessments and sorting debris into different piles for cleanup. For example, metal can be recycled.
The government is using the Burlingame-based company ECC to remove debris from wildfire-ravaged homes in Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. Allen said it has yet to announce a contractor for Sonoma County.
Hauling off debris in Napa, Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties could cost about $250 million, she said. The Corps will try to give 24-hour to 48-hour notice to homeowners before removing their debris.
FEMA officials have said the government cleanup program in Napa County could finish early next year, depending on the weather.
The Atlas, Nuns and Tubbs wildfires have created a demand for landfill space. They destroyed more than 7,000 structures – most in Sonoma County – and all of that waste has to go somewhere.
Some of it will go to the Clover Flat Landfill near Calistoga. But Clover Flat likely won’t be the final resting place for all of the thousands of burned-out homes in the region.
“We’re a very small landfill,” General Manager Bryce Howard said.
The landfill in a canyon off Silverado Trail is allowed to receive up to 600 tons of waste daily. Howard said it already receives about 200 tons daily as it serves the upper Napa Valley communities.
“We’re willing to take another 200 tons daily, so we’re doubling the amount we take in,” Howard said.
It’s a balancing act between serving the routine needs of the local community and the needs of the emergency. Though the landfill has an estimated lifespan of 30 years under normal conditions, Howard said it has about five years of space prepared for the immediate future.
Clover Flat is receiving inquiries from private contractors who want to dispose of debris from homes destroyed by wildfire, Howard said. As of Friday, he hadn’t heard from the government.
The landfill could seek to have its 600-tons-per-day limit waived to deal with an emergency. Howard said he has yet to see the debris-disposal requests to warrant this step and thinks other landfills in the region—some much bigger—will also be taking debris.
Allen said Monday she didn’t know what landfills will be used for the government debris-hauling program.