Wildfire in the state of Oregon has impacted countless residents and businesses, including landscape contractors in all regions of the state We hope this message finds you and yours safe.
Wildfire debris cleanup information from DEQ
The September 2020 wildfires created the largest and most expensive natural disaster in Oregon history. The first step toward recovery is clearing wildfire debris from homes and businesses so that Oregonians can begin rebuilding.
Wildfire debris cleanup is a two-step process. Step 1 is removal of household hazardous waste. This includes things like propane tanks, large pieces of asbestos, and car batteries that pose an immediate threat to human health and the environment. The Oregon Debris Management Task Force contracted with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do this work, which is, as of today, nearly complete.
Step 2, ash and debris removal, is the larger effort of removing burned materials and other fire damaged debris from properties. Step 2 will address concrete foundations, hazard trees, septic tanks, and soil testing. Additionally, heating oil tanks and above and below ground storage tanks may also be addressed if they have been damaged or destroyed by the fires or if they pose a threat to people or public property. The Task Force is in the process of evaluating responses to the Request for Proposals for this work and awarding contracts.
The selected contractors will be hiring many local contractors across the state, so that ash and debris removal can occur across all the affected areas as quickly as possible. If you are available to provide contracting work related to ash and debris removal, make sure you are registered through the Oregon Procurement Information Network: orpin.oregon.gov. Once registered, open the opportunity (#730-34584-20) and express interest to provide your information to the potential prime contractors on this RFP.
The State of Oregon recommends that people with property impacted by the September 2020 wildfires go through the state cleanup process, by signing a Right of Entry form with their county – available at wildfire.oregon.gov/cleanup. This is the best way property owners can protect their health and save their money while having their property restored to buildable conditions.
However, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has also provided guidelines for those who want to do the cleanup work themselves. This information is available at ordeq.org/firedebris. If you are a contractor who is hired by a property owner to conduct cleanup at their property, go to DEQ's webpage to ensure you follow all state laws and guidelines.
Top 3 Things to Keep in Mind Before Doing Cleanup Work for Property Owners
- Handling asbestos. Before you handle any ash and debris, these materials should be tested for asbestos. You need to hire an accredited inspector to survey the property and a licensed asbestos abatement contractor should perform any abatement activities. More information is available on DEQ's asbestos webpage.
- Disposing of these materials. Make sure you call your local landfill or transfer station before hauling any ash and debris. Some facilities may not accept these materials or may require specific testing beforehand. Don't get turned away. Call before you haul.
- Leaving a clean site behind. Toxic metals are often present following a fire. DEQ recommends that, after ash and debris are removed, the soil be tested for arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, and silver. Information about cleanup goals are available on DEQ's cleanup fact sheet.
Thousands of Oregonians have lost their homes to these fires, and our responsibility is to them. Make sure you maintain proper and thorough documentation of receipts for disposal, lab reports, sampling locations, photos, and any other reports produced during cleanup. Giving these to the property owner will ensure that they can maximize the benefits of their insurance, and be set for rebuilding.
Advice and Information from OSHA
Staying safe in burned areas
OHA collaborated with the Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon OSHA to make sure people who may be returning to burned areas stay safe. You can learn more about staying safe in burned areas.
Dealing with ash in burned places
Many people have questions about problems created by ash and dust when the time comes to clean up. The simple message - wet it down, and less power, not more.
The best approach is probably to gently dampen it - do not use a pressure washer that will generate dust before ash gets wet. Use a HEPA-equipped vacuum if you have on, or scoop it up.
If you can more the dampened material with a relatively low pressure air blower, that's okay too. But you absolutely should not use a back-pack style leaf blower to clean up dry ash and dust from the smoke.
A broom can work, if used properly. Avoid rigorous sweeping and dampen the material. When managing ash, remember these three things: Wet. Slow. Low Pressure. That's the key.