Camp Fire Clean-up Options

We break down the differences between the government's clean-up package and hiring a private contractor, and potential hits to your insurance rates.

Posted: Jan 12, 2019 1:01 AM
Updated: May 21, 2021 11:44 AM

The deadline for state-sponsored debris removal sign up is January 31st, the same day as the deadline to apply for FEMA assistance. But it's not the only option - nor the cheapest - according to our investigation. 

Your Options

On Thursday, we saw lawmakers and state officials advocate for the government-sponsored clean-up program. Among those in attendance: State Assemblyman James Gallagher, Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter, Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci, and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones.

"[The government] program has been very effective at removing debris efficiently," shared Assemblyman Gallagher, also noting the positive impacts in the North Bay following the 2017 fires there.

Those without homeowners insurance who go through the state's program will receive clean-up free of charge. However, there's no clear timeline as to when the state will get to your house so you may rebuild. If you do have homeowners insurance, the state will charge the entire portion of your insurance that covers debris. In some cases, this could be more than what a private contractor will charge you, with a potentially slower clean-up. But insurance agents say it is also important to properly vet candidates to ensure they know how to follow clean-up rules.

"You don't want to spend all this money to hire someone, and have them do the clean-up improperly and dump it all in someone's orchard," says Michael Reilley of Austin, Reilley and Doud Insurance.

Reilley's advice:  Do your due diligence, whatever option you decide.

As to the impact on insurance rates, Reilley says, your rates won't be impacted by this one incident alone. 

"Insurance rates are controlled by the state insurance commission," Reilley explains. "Keep in mind, many insurance companies lost a lot during the Santa Rosa fires. Those insurance companies will reach out to the insurance commissioner, [and say] we need to make up the loss]..."

Local Contractors Priced Out? 

The price tag for the two-ton Camp Fire clean-up comes out to a hefty $1.7 billion dollars, according to an RFP by CalRecycle. The bidding has begun, but many local contractors don't qualify for the job.

"Getting bonding capacity for a $750 million dollar contract isn't something local contractors can do," explained Kristi Rose of Santos Excavation, Inc. 

We asked Cal OES for their thoughts on the matter.

"You as a homeowner will want the most certified, qualified, and secure entity coming on to your property to do the work," reassured Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci, "and we do plan to subcontract local workers to do the work." 

But local contractors say, the upfront cost could be far too high. 

"You're talking about 120 days out from [getting] payment. The cost is too steep for us," Rose responded. 

Then there's the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires subcontractors working on federally funded projects over $2,000 to match the pay rate of similar projects happening in the area. Santos employees say, they would be required to pay laborers three times the normal hourly rate.

"An equipment operator would be $70 an hour," Rose says. 

"We need the government to help us clean it all up," explains George Santos, President of Santos Excavation, Inc., "but they need to let us go back to work." Santos says it's now been seven weeks since he first tried to apply for a permit to start cleaning Paradise sites. He says he's now been told the paperwork won't be approved for another three weeks. The hold-up could lead to more fire survivors choosing to leave the area, rather than wait to have their properties cleaned. 

Cal Recycle says early government-sponsored clean-up estimates for the Carr Fire are coming out to $100K per lot. However, it is hard to put a definitive number of any fire debris clean-up, as costs will vary per site. Factors include the number of structures per site and the distance from the disposal facility.

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