Remaining Woolsey Burn Debris Targeted for Removal Before Summer; Permits Lag for Re-Building

Like a field being tilled for planting, the Woolsey burn zone is progressively being poked and prodded by excavators and skid steers removing the charred debris to prepare properties for rebuilding.

It's been just over five months since the devastating wildfire consumed more than 1,400 structures as it burned from the Santa Susanna mountains to Malibu. Debris remains at hundreds of yet to be cleared locations, stark reminders of the fire's destructive power and lingering hold on the area.

Initially delayed by the need to focus first on potentially hazardous materials, and then by a wetter than normal winter, the clearance effort is now gaining momentum, and this past week, the state program passed the halfway mark, according to administrators.

The goal is to finish the clearance by the end of June, said Greg Renick, a spokesman for the California Governor's Officer of Emergency Services, which is administering the effort with CalRecycle, in cooperation with other government agencies.

Clearance is a necessary step before a property owner can seek a building permit, and few have gotten to that point. Within the city of Malibu, only two permits to rebuild have been issued so far, with nine more in process, according to Richard Mollica, the city's senior planner.

Getting a permit is simplified if the proposed structure is within the footprint of what burned. The city has heard from a large number of property owners seeking guidance on the area and height cutoffs in their cases. Mollica expects the pace of permit applications will pick up as engineering design work on the proposed new structures is completed.

Property owners don't necessarily have to rebuild burned structures, but when it comes to removing fire debris, the only choice they were given was whether to opt into the state run program, or to opt out and make their own arrangements for the work to be done.

As it was, 954 chose the state program. So far, 524 properties have been cleared, Renick said. Each job can take several days. Tuesday, teams were working at 44 different sites, and administrators were planning to add more teams by week's end.

So far, crews have removed 218,333 tons of debris, said Renick.

After a site is cleared of debris, soil samples are analyzed, and the presence of contaminants could require additional work. Next comes erosion control work, before a report of approval can be sent to the local agency that oversees building.

At last count, final reports have been issued for 151 sites.

The motivation for the state's involvement is not only to insure that environmental hazards are dealt with, Renick said, but also to assist community recovery from the fire's impact by expediting construction.

"That's one of our goals," said Renick, "to get property owners on the road to rebuilding."

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