Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As crew members with a private hazardous waste removal company loaded up pickings from one pile of ash Wednesday near Calistoga, two others made their way to another pile with specialized equipment in hand.
Wearing protective suits and respirators, the workers were testing the area for signs of radiation or toxic gases — a crucial first step before work would continue on this plot.
Before the Kincade fire roared through the area in late October, the piles of ash were buildings and homes on the LaFranchi Ranch. Wednesday’s work, which will extend to burned structures throughout the nearly 80,000-acre burn zone of Sonoma County’s largest fire, marked the start of the recovery.
“Once the fire is out, we need to figure out how to return the community to that safe and healthy environment it was previously,” Environmental Health Director Christine Sosko said.
The county-funded hazardous waste cleanup, estimated to cost $500,000-$750,000, is the first step in the recovery, Sosko said. The Kincade fire wasn’t the most destructive in county history, taking only 374 buildings, including 174 homes, compared to thousands lost just two years ago. But the toll is still extensive. Nearly everything on the LaFranchi property was lost.
When workers from Chico-based NRC Environmental Services picked through the rubble, they did so with some expertise and training, scanning the ruins for specific areas: the garage, the laundry room, places used to store cleaning products, paints, solvents, and other hazardous materials.
Anything crews picked out was transferred to plastic buckets, then carried to metal, 55-gallon drums to be hauled to an approved landfill.