Camp Fire leads to debris removal, housing, job issues
Special to the Sierra Sun
Editor’s Note: This is the last of three packages updating readers on conditions in the community of Paradise, virtually wiped out last November by wildfire.
Tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes last November in the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire ever. The impacts of the Camp Fire will likely be felt for years to come, not just by residents of Paradise or Magalia but of surrounding communities as well.
The Yuba-Sutter area is no exception, given its close proximity to the impacted area. Some of the biggest local impacts of the fire and the response to it have been with the debris removal process and the toll it’s taking on Yuba-Sutter area roads, the housing market and the job market.
Anyone that has driven through the Yuba-Sutter area on a weekday during business hours has seen them clogging up heavily traveled arteries on Highway 70, Highway 99 and even various city streets. Large trucks are part of the debris removal process and have been impacting area roadways since operations began in February.
One of the main reasons the Yuba-Sutter area has been impacted is because of the Recology Ostrom Road Landfill outside of Wheatland, which is one of two North State landfills that accept certain types of debris being removed from the impacted area due to the landfill being outfitted with a special type of liner.
As of July 9, the debris removal process has seen a total of 2,193,757 tons of debris (or almost 4.4 billion pounds) removed from the Camp Fire area – including 31,013 tons of metal; 1,741,418 tons of debris, ash and contaminated soil; and 421,326 tons of concrete, according to CalRecycle, which is overseeing the debris removal operations.
“There are currently 52 crews working on Camp Fire debris removal – that translates to roughly 1,040 truckloads per day (based on a productivity range of crews filling 10-20 truckloads per day),” said Lance Klug, public information officer for CalRecycle.
Recology Yuba-Sutter did not respond to questions about how much material has been deposited at the Ostrom Road Landfill.
Caltrans public information officer Steve Nelson said the state department is responding as needed to isolated pothole damage on the North State’s highways due to the debris removal efforts. He said Caltrans is working with the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program to complete an assessment of the pavement damaged based on pre-disaster conditions, though at this point, any reimbursement would only apply to Butte County roads because that county received a disaster declaration.
Regardless of the emergency relief restrictions, Caltrans’ pavement damage assessment – due by the end of September – will include all state highway haul routes in all counties affected to get a better idea of the total impact, and so that the state can respond accordingly, Nelson said.
“Aside from pavement damage, there are numerous traffic congestion-related impacts. Caltrans has been working with Cal OES and CalRecycle on these issues,” Nelson said. “We are monitoring traffic and adjusting signal timing as needed at all intersections being used by the debris removal operation.”
It’s hard to say how many trucks actually travel through the area, especially with each making multiple trips a day. Local officials have estimated the daily tally to be in the hundreds.
Marysville City Manager Marti Brown said the city plans on running a count sometime this summer. The influx of traffic through the city has posed a number of problems for officials and law enforcement.
“Some trucks are still cutting through the downtown area including D, B and First streets,” Brown said. “We’re still concerned about gridlocking of intersection during red lights, as well as cut through traffic of neighborhood and commuter traffic to bypass the state highways and authorized truck routes. In addition, we’re still concerned about the adverse impact to city streets that the cut-through traffic and trucks are having.”
City officials have reached out to the state to see if there is anything that can be done in terms of relief to help mitigate the impacts to city streets and air quality, but all attempts to connect have been unsuccessful thus far, Brown said.
Initially, the state estimated the debris removal program to take about one year to complete, or by early 2020. With operations running smoothly, Klug said the hope now is that the process will be completed ahead of schedule, though putting a specific date on it would be irresponsible at this point.
“There are currently 10,752 properties whose owners have elected to participate in the state-managed cleanup program,” he said. “Debris removal is complete on 6,641 of those properties. Final inspections have been completed on 2,082 properties.”
The Camp Fire destroyed about 14,000 homes in Butte County. While some have chosen to rebuild, others have been left to find a new place to live, either temporarily or permanently, in a competitive North State market.
Tib Belza, a local real estate broker and vice president of the Sutter-Yuba Association of Realtors, said the Yuba-Sutter area has a healthy housing market right now, with a good level of inventory available for people looking to buy. The rental market is a different story though.
“The rental market is really tight right now, and rents have increased quite a bit over the last couple years,” Belza said. “And I’m sure some of that is due to the various wildfires we’ve experienced.”
Because of the increased cost of rent in the recent past, Belza said, there’s quite a market in the area for homes in the price range of $175,000 to $250,000.
“We’ve seen an impact because of the fire, no question about it, but I think more so in town,” Belza said, whose business focuses mostly in the foothills area.
The need for housing has also brought about scammers. Belza said the best way to avoid falling victim is to be aware of the threat.
“There are scams out there online with people renting out properties they don’t own. Make sure you are dealing with reputable people,” Belza said. “There are resources available to double check, like real estate agents and property management companies that can help.”
The area’s job market has actually benefited from the influx of Camp Fire survivors relocating to the area.
“The fire has made a noticeable impact on the Yuba-Sutter job market by bringing additional qualified job seekers to the area, helping local employers fill vacant positions with job seekers that are eager to work,” said Carianne Huss, a cluster manager in the Workforce Services Branch of the local Economic Development Department.
Huss and her team at the EDD have been working with Camp Fire survivors by providing them with information and services, including scheduling job assessments, providing job referrals, resume assistance, and referring displaced workers to agency partners for additional support services.
“We advise anyone displaced by this fire to visit the Yuba County America’s Job Center of California (One Stop) and identify themselves as a Camp Fire victim,” Huss said. “We have a variety of tools and services to assist them in their job search, including workshops and mock interviews; and there’s a sizeable range of job openings in the local area.”