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Local News

Santa Barbara County Scheduling Hazardous Materials Inspections at Properties Damaged by Thomas Fire

Supervisors have declared a local health emergency that requires hazmat assessments for damaged properties, unless owners opt out

Santa Barbara County property owners whose homes were damaged or lost in the Thomas Fire have until Monday to contact the county Environmental Health Services offices to schedule a hazardous materials and post-fire debris-removal assessment. 

If the county is unable to contact property owners, Environmental Health Services staff will coordinate with local fire agencies and/or county planning and development colleagues to access the properties and complete the household hazardous waste evaluation, Public Health Deputy Director Susan Klein-Rothschild said Wednesday. 

During a special meeting Wednesday, the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to re-ratify a local health emergency, which also deals with removing and disposing of hazardous material and debris from the Thomas Fire.

Klein-Rothschild said county staff is working to directly communicate with property owners through letters, ads, social media and phone calls.

Six of 46 property owners were scheduled for an assessment as of Wednesday, she said.

“We are making intensive efforts this week to reach property owners,” Klein-Rothschild said.

County staff hope to complete all of the assessments and removal of hazardous materials in a few weeks, Klein-Rothschild said.

“We are working to complete the assessments and removal as soon as possible,”  she said. “Safety for people and the environment are a priority. If needed, law enforcement may be contacted as with other health officer orders. Factors such as the safety of the structures and properties and our ability to access the sites will impact the timelines.”

Property owners can contact the South County office in Santa Barbara at 805.681.4900 and the Santa Maria office at 805.346.8460. 

The Board of Supervisors ratified the local health emergency declaration on Dec. 21, and since then, three properties have been assessed, according to county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso.

“The challenge now is connecting with the property owners,” Do-Reynoso said.

According to information released by county staff, the declaration of a local health emergency prohibits the removal of fire debris without having a hazardous materials inspection conducted either by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, at no cost to the property owner.

People can opt out of the inspections, according to the declaration.

Property clean-up includes removing all household waste such as gasoline, pesticides, paint, cleaning products and chemicals that may have been stored in homes, sheds or garages and result in toxic debris after the fire.

The county declaration also notes that winter storms pose risks for hazardous materials entering watersheds or spreading to other properties, if not adequately removed.

Property owners who opt out of the inspections do need permission from the county Environmental Health Services before they begin fire debris removal, county officials said.

Do-Reynoso said the county's Emergency Operations Center and Planning and Development Department provided a list of properties with destroyed or damaged structures, and staff members are checking assessor's records for property owner information. 

“While we were able to enter the properties without consent, we wanted to reach out and make sure that we connect with the property owners,” Do-Reynoso said. “We are working around the clock.”

Do-Reynoso said the process includes county hazmat inspectors visually inspecting properties and putting hazardous materials aside, while a contracted hauler collects the waste and moves it offsite to a licensed facility.

Asbestos assessment and abatement will be conducted by a contractor for structures built before 1985, she said.

A property is certified after all the household hazardous waste and asbestos removal is complete, she added.

No one from the community spoke during the public comment portion of the special meeting held in the board hearing room on the fourth floor of the Santa Barbara County Administration Building.

Santa Barbara County has fire recovery and flood prevention information on its Thomas Fire website here.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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