The series of wildfires that roared through Oregon in September destroyed thousands of residences and other structures. The cleanup process that will allow families and businesses to rebuild is well underway. Here’s an update on the progress, and DEQ’s role.
Two-step debris removal process – DEQ is part of the Debris Management Task Force, along with Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Emergency Management, that is overseeing the removal of the ash and debris left when the fire destroyed structures. The two steps are 1) household hazard waste removal, and 2) remaining ash and debris removal.
Step 1: Household hazardous waste removal – Under contract from FEMA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hired crews of experienced haz mat teams to go through burned properties and remove hazardous items, such as propane tanks, car batteries, ammunition, fertilizer and other materials that might endanger workers in Step 2. Property owners who signed permission papers received this service for free. The work is nearly complete and EPA is getting ready to stand down.
Step 2: Ash and debris removal – ODOT is in the final stages of approving contracts for crews to finish the cleanup work by scraping and hauling away the remaining fire debris. Part of the work entails removing trees that might pose a hazard to workers and the public, and those contracts already are in place. Trees are being marked with barcodes that guide what will happen to them. Some will be used for erosion control, some for needed woody debris in streams to provide habitat, and others for lumber.
Natural and cultural resource protection – DEQ, along with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Oregon Department of Forestry, is overseeing protection of natural and cultural resources that could be threatened by the aftermath of the fire, including cleanup activities.
DEQ’s role will focus on water quality, such as preventing debris from entering drinking water systems and ensuring septic systems remain safe and protective of water quality. DEQ is also working with Oregon tribes to ensure protection of cultural resources.
DEQ has on-scene coordinators and watershed coordinators in all of the basins affected by the fires to assess highest needs and priorities for the work.
–Harry Esteve, communications manager