Butte County Local Highlight: 2020 Wildfires Debris Removal Update


FEATHER FALLS, CA – The remains of 1,080 of 1,100 homes and properties damaged in the North Complex Fire in Butte County have now been cleared of burned metal, concrete, ash, and contaminated soil. The nearly 1,100 properties are participating in California’s statewide Consolidated Debris Removal Program (Program).

In 2020, over 8,000 climate-induced wildfires burned 4.2 million acres of California, destroying more than 5,700 homes. Property owners incur no direct costs for participating in the state-managed clean up and recovery program, administered by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) in collaboration with 25 participating counties.

Steps Left to Complete

Before homeowners can begin rebuilding, cleared properties need additional work:

  • Separate contractors will collect soil samples for a state certified laboratory to verify they meet state environmental health and safety standards.
  • Contractors may install erosion control measures.
  • Certified arborists or professional foresters will assess wildfire-damaged trees in danger of falling on the public or public infrastructure.
  • State officials will inspect the property to verify all completed work meets state standards.
  • Debris officials will submit a final inspection report to local officials to approve the property for reconstruction.

So far, 253, or 17.3 percent, of the 1,461 properties in Butte County participating in the full debris removal program or the hazardous trees program have been returned to county officials for final approval prior to beginning reconstruction.  Returning the properties to the county follows the completion of soil testing, erosion control, the removal of fire-damaged trees in danger of falling, a final walkthrough by debris officials, and a final sign-off.

Butte County Property Owner Highlight:

Sandy Bourasa of Feather Falls has multiple properties enrolled in the Program. So far, one property has completed the entire process and has been returned to Butte County officials for final approval to begin the reconstruction process.

As a volunteer firefighter, a member of the local Fire Safe Council, local business owner and someone who’s actively involved in the community, knew about the Program.

“We had heard a number of positive things (about the Program) and a lot of people said, ‘Go through that debris removal program. They do an excellent job.”

Bourasa said enrolling in the debris removal process was simple and easy.

In addition to enrolling her properties in the Program, Bourasa also informed property owners to allow the debris removal process to begin. Known as the Right-of-Entry (ROE) permit applications, Bourasa provided hard copy applications to neighbors who were not as computer-skilled; helped those neighbors complete their ROEs; scanned and sent the completed ROEs to the county; and provided neighbors with proofs of receipt.

Bourasa considered hiring private contractors, rather than opting into the state program.  She said the average bid from private contractors was between $45,000 and $50,000 per property.

“We are in a better financial state than a lot of people that are in our community, and in the beginning we considered doing a private clean-up… I’m more than capable of doing all the paperwork and requirements that were needed.

Still, she chose the State’s Program.

“It’s difficult to get (fire) insurance in areas like this, so the majority of people don’t have insurance,” she said.  “To them, they don’t have an option.”

Bourasa noted there have been bumps in the road, like a lack in communication with some of the agencies involved, scheduling issues, eligibility for some items to be removed, and the removal of some trees.

Despite those hiccups, she said she doesn’t regret participating in the Program and would participate again if a future fire affects one of her properties.

“When they did come in and do the debris removal, they were very thorough, very nice,” Bourasa said. “They did an excellent job. When they left (the property), it looked fantastic.  You had no idea that such devastation was there once they were done.”

“I know, for me, we went home every night.  We didn’t lose our home, so, for me, it’s a lot easier to say,” she added.  “Had it been my entire livelihood (lost), my entire home (lost), I would probably feel like this is a forever process, but, for me, the reality of it is we’re not even a year into it yet, but I’m told that by August, they’re hoping to have this complete, at least here in Feather Falls.  So, to orchestrate something like this and have it done, to me, in a year is a pretty short period of time.”

Steps County Properties Percentage
Statewide 3,687 96.7%
Statewide 1,896 42.3%

To date, the remains of 2020 wildfire survivors’ homes and property have now been cleared from 96.7 percent of the 3,811 properties enrolled in California’s statewide Consolidated Debris Removal Program. Most properties still need critical soil testing, erosion control, and hazard tree removal to ensure the lots are safe for families to rebuild.

Statewide, officials have returned 1,896, or 42.3 percent, of the 4,484 properties to officials in their respective counties to begin reconstruction.

Property owners can track the above data on the Debris Operations Dashboard for the 2020 statewide wildfires. The dashboard is updated every hour and provides users with the ability to search by county or address.

* Data as of 7/2/21 at 11:00 a.m.