The magnitude of the Hennessey Fire’s impact on Napa County was presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning.
The fire within the county destroyed about 250 homes, damaged 12 homes and burned several hundred barns, garages and other outbuildings, county Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said Tuesday morning. Both aerial and on-ground surveys were used for the estimate.
“We’ve been contacted by several members of the public who are anxious to get started on rebuilding, like the phoenix out of the fire,” Morrison said.
The Hennessey Fire that began Aug. 17 has burned 317,909 acres in five counties, of which 164,948 acres are in Napa County, said Cal Fire incident commander Sean Kavanaugh. The Napa Valley and its cities were spared damage.
The burn zone comprises 33% of the entire county, encircling Lake Berryessa, and spreading to four nearby counties. The lightning-spawned fire has burned in the rural east county, destroying homes in such small communities as Spanish Flat and Berryessa Highlands.
Napa County has experience in fire recovery from the October 2017 fires that destroyed about 650 homes. Once again, dump trucks will be rumbling along rural roads carrying ash and debris from the ruins of homes.
Home ruins are hazardous material sites, Morrison said. Chemicals are embedded in the ashes.
About 300 tons of hazardous materials and 60,000 tons of fire-related debris must be removed, he said. The county is making the case that the state and federal governments should help. Otherwise, homeowners will have to do the removal jobs on their properties themselves.
“I think that they deserve better,” Morrison said.
People who rebuild homes must include solar power because of a new state law, Morrison said. They must follow updated state road and street standards for private access roads.
The county might allow people who lost homes to place RV trailers on nearby properties during rebuilding. That’s because lot sizes in places such as Berryessa Highlands might be too small for them to stay on their own properties during debris removal.
People rebuilding will get a 30% waiver on county building permit fees.
County officials are also thinking about the natural environment, given winter rains can wash silt from fire-scarred hills into reservoirs such as Lake Berryessa and Lake Hennessey, a city of Napa reservoir. Erosion-prevention efforts will involve the Napa County Resource Conservation District.
The county has its own recovery work to do. Public Works Director Steven Lederer said 157 signs and miles of guard rail were damaged. While fire generally doesn’t damage pavement, it does in cases where a car or boat burned on the street.
Another issue is removing fire-damaged trees that could fall. Kavanaugh said people returning to their properties need to do a hazard check for such trees.
“There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done,” Kavanaugh said.
Power, water and other utilities must be made available for returning residents. Roads must be cleared. Containment lines must be tied together, he said.
“We’re feeling a lot better,” Kavanaugh said. “We want to get people back in their homes. There are still some of those troubled areas. We have a lot of heavy equipment out in the areas.”
People were allowed to return to the small, rural community of Berryessa Estates Tuesday morning, he said
For Napa County, the Hennessey Fire is only the latest wildfire disaster, along with the 2017 fires that destroyed 650 homes and the 2018 Steele fire that destroyed eight Berrryessa Highlands homes.
“Over the last four years, we’ve lost more than 900 homes in Napa County due to wildfires,” Morrison said.
Morrison, Lederer and Kavanaugh made their remarks during a fire update to the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.