THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — One year after the Woolsey Fire damaged 112 miles of trails and 88 percent of federal park land in the Santa Monica Mountains, a second phase of the recovery effort that began immediately after the fire is poised to begin today with the testing of hazardous materials and removing debris from 30 structures and outbuildings.
The National Park Service is not eligible for the assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for cleaning up burned sites. FEMA has provided contaminant clean-up through the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) for most private landowners, local and state governments impacted by the Woolsey Fire.
“We needed separate funds from Congress to begin work,” said Park Superintendent David Szymanski. In June, Congress passed and the President signed a Disaster Relief Bill. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) received a share of these funds in August and awarded a contract for site clean-up the following month.
Strict environmental rules govern the treatment of contaminated sites. The process involves rigorous testing before and after treatment to ensure that materials are disposed of properly and that the site is cleaned to accepted standards.
“Since all buildings have toxins in them when they burn, testing for hazardous materials is a critical step that must be taken prior to the removal of any of the debris,” Szymanski said. “As caretakers for the public’s lands, we are required to guarantee that all toxins have been removed. We can’t just use our park equipment and haul everything off.”
A minority-owned business based out of Thousand Oaks called Lead Builders, Inc. was awarded a $1.6 million contract in September to remove and haul debris from the various sites within the recreation area. The debris consists of vegetation, ash, contaminated soil, trees that prohibit work performance, household hazardous waste and electronic waste.
After the testing process is completed early next year, the contractor will remove and haul debris from the 30 structures and outbuildings. This aspect of the project is expected to begin in the spring of 2020.
The park has focused on reopening trails and park sites. Over the past year, park rangers worked to open these trails, clear roads, stabilize hillsides, repair culverts and conduct surveys on bridges that were in need of repair. Currently, 103 miles of the 112 that were burned have reopened. In addition, 1,000 acres of invasive plants were treated.
The park expects to open two more park units – Peter Strauss Ranch and Rocky Oaks – before Thanksgiving.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is the largest urban national park in the country, encompassing more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A unit of the National Park Service, it comprises a seamless network of local, state, and federal parks interwoven with private lands and communities. As one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, SMMNRA preserves the rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities. For more information, visit nps.gov/samo.