The California State Guard (State Defense Force) has been on Active Duty since May as part of a joint task force supporting the California Office of Emergency Services (CAL OES) & FEMA. The force consists of 80 National Guard & State Guard troops who are tasked with Debris Removal Operation Process (DROP). This process consists of the soldiers removing and properly disposing of debris left by the wildfires. To date the team has cleared 3.6 Billion tons of debris from 11, 466 sites.
Below is the official Federal Government DVIDS article:
PARADISE, CA, UNITED STATES
Story by Staff Sgt. Amanda Johnson
PARADISE, California – A contractor in a white protective suit, booties, and hard hat, breathing through a respirator, doused water on dirt after each pass of the excavator’s jagged teeth across hazardous top soil on a plot of land in the town of Paradise, California, four days short from the one year anniversary when flames coalesced across a large expanse in the northern region of the state.
The Camp Fire started in the town of Pulgas and quickly made its way towards Paradise, enveloping the town. The devastation of the inferno burned to the core of the community. The disaster claimed 85 lives and displaced thousands in Butte County. In its wake was the charred landscape and infrastructure of a town rooted in the 1850s and 60s. In the year since the blaze, the process of recovery has filled the hours of day light.
After the last embers were extinguished, the next part began; recovery. For the residence of Pulgas, Concow, Magalia, and Paradise, the process has been a journey of healing and reconstruction.
A collaboration of efforts collected under the direction of California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) that included California National Guard, California State Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began removing debris and environmental hazards from the impacted locations.
A total of 18,804 residential and commercial properties within the footprint of the fire were destroyed.
“There are three construction crews that have sub-contractors spread throughout the area,” explained Petty Officer 2nd Class Bernadette Ramirez, Maritime Command sailor with California State Guard.
Ramirez is a member of a joint task force consisting of 80 California National Guard and California State Guard service members working out of Chico. The team has been here since May supporting Cal OES and FEMA.
They are tasked with supervisory roles in a multi-stage process of cleaning up each property under the Cal OES team called Debris Removal Operation Center (DROC). The Debris Removal Operation Process, or DROP is a long and arduous process.
First, metal debris is removed by heavy equipment such as an excavator. Ash and debris are taken next, then concrete removal, Ramirez explained. Finally, any contaminated soil is displaced. After a soil sample verifies no hazards remain on the lot, Ramirez and her team request a final site walk.
“We clear 40 to 80 sites a day,” Ramirez said. DROC members circulate to several sites in a single shift, constantly inspecting each location.
From safety protective equipment worn by contractors to environmental regulations, these supervisors are charged with the task of ensuring every inch of land is cleaned, tested and legally cleared. This will provide the citizens impacted by this incident with a safe and strong foundation to rebuild.
In addition to working with state and federal officials, the task force works with the Army Corps of Engineers and Tribal monitors.
“If we find artifacts on a lot, we put it back where we found it,” said Ramirez. Tribal monitors are notified of the object and determine any further actions.
Once a final site walk is completed, property owners are notified.
“After ensuring all standards have been met, the property owners can finally rebuild,” said Ramirez.
Over 3.6 billion tons of debris have been removed from Butte County; twice as much debris removed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York city, in the same amount of time. Eleven thousand four hundred and seventy-six sites have been assessed and cleared.
From a fire that began at 6:33 am, November 8, 2018 that burned 153,336 acres per CAL FIRE statistics, the reconstruction of the impacted area is limitless.
“Homeowners are thankful we are here,” said Spc. Raymundo Morales, a member of Sacramento-based 270th Military Police company working for the DROC operation. The town’s people see the uniformed personnel everyday working towards the future of the community and state. Morales has been a part of the team since May and he’s glad he could help.
“It’s the best part of the job,” Morales said speaking about the relationship with homeowners. After waiting almost a year, they can finally step back on their property and focus on the future. As the natural world grows over the blackened scars across the landscape, so do the people of Butte County.