Atlas Fire

The charred remains of one of the many destroyed homes near Silverado Resort as a result of the Atlas Fire. Federal and local officials are spearheading an effort to clear burned-out lots of debris this winter.

J.L. Sousa, Register file photo

Trucks could be on local roads within days hauling away the remains of wildfire-destroyed homes as a massive government waste removal program gets underway.

“We expect to start removing debris probably by this Friday on private property in Napa,” said Robert Fenton of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during a Monday evening meeting on the Atlas Fire.

But first, contractors must bring in equipment. As soon as Wednesday, mini-excavators, front-end loaders and haul trucks could go to staging areas, Fenton said. Residents can expect to experience added traffic and noise.

“Pretty soon, you’ll be tired of seeing trucks go up and down your roads,” Fenton told hundreds of Atlas Fire victims gathered in the Silverado Resort and Spa ballroom.

The government’s debris–hauling effort could finish early next year, depending on such factors as the weather, he said.

Robin Sisemore is among those who lost her house and attended the meeting. She evacuated amid the Atlas Fire after it broke out that windy night of Oct. 8. Her home had survived the 1981 Atlas Peak Fire and she had thought it would again.

“I had a lot of denial,” she said.

Now she faces the same choice as others at the Monday meeting – whether to hire someone to do the cleanup work or let the government do it.

Debris removal is taking place in two phases. Phase 1 is the removal of household hazardous waste such as pesticides, paints, ammunition and gasoline. Phase 2 is the removal of the bulk of the debris.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency is taking the lead on Phase 1. Unless people do the job themselves, the agency is removing household hazardous waste for free. People need sign no forms for that to happen, officials said.

EPA began household hazardous waste removal in Napa County last Friday, said Steve Catalog of the agency. As of Monday evening, it had already done 20 percent of the properties and had two more days of work in Silverado area.

“We’re moving very quickly,” he said.

The agency inspects the properties and leaves a sign saying a site is free of household hazardous waste. That clears the way for Phase 2: the removal of the bulk of the debris.

People can hire contractors at their own expense to do phase two debris removal. They might think this will, in some cases, allow them to start rebuilding more quickly, officials said.

Or they can let the government do the work at no cost to themselves, though they must give the government any insurance receipts they have due for fire debris removal.

“The good thing is, you have options,” said Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, who hosted the meeting in his supervisorial district.

They must choose quickly, though. Napa County and federal officials want them to submit the necessary paperwork for the government program by 5 p.m. Nov. 9. They can go to the county website at to find the form.

FEMA is partnering with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers on the government debris removal program using CalRecycle standards, Fenton said.

People at the Silverado meeting wanted to know what the government will remove. Fenton said the haul-away program includes foundations, automobiles, unusable swimming pools, standing chimneys, ashes, all the metals.

“We would literally bring the lot back to an acceptable testing level where you see just dirt,” Fenton said.

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People who want to do the job themselves must have a contractor submit a work plan to the county. The plan must detail such things as proposals to control dust during debris removal and transportation, proposals for storm water pollution prevention and soil testing plans.

An audience member asked how long the county will take to approve such plans.

“If it’s complete, we will review the plan and approve it within 24 hours,” county Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said.

The challenge might be finding contractors, he said. That’s because of the demand in the wake of fires that destroyed thousands of homes in Napa, Sonoma and surrounding counties.

Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said the preliminary cost estimate to fight the Atlas Fire is $51 million. He was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the scene after the blaze started at 9:52 p.m. Oct. 8.

Winds the night the fire broke out on Atlas Peak reached 40 mph and in some parts of the county reached 90 mph, Biermann said. The Tubbs Fire and Partrick Fire also broke out in Napa County that same night.

Within the first hour of the Atlas Fire, he placed an order for 100 fire engines, along with bulldozers, hand crews and firefighting aircraft after sunrise, Biermann said. Forty-three engines responded by morning amid a competition for resources, given the other fires.

The Atlas Fire had 450 people battling it on Oct. 9, Biermann said. This eventually grew to about 3,300 people and 225 engines.

That fire destroyed 462 homes, 304 outbuildings and 17 commercial buildings. It killed six people, he said.


Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa