For months, the lot on the corner of Mt. Hermon and Graham Hill roads in Felton has been a beehive of activity.
Usually, the verdant venue known as Daybreak Camp hosts horses and their handlers, but following the CZU Lightning Complex fire the area was adopted by a company that has a contract with the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a processing station for the detritus that the flames left behind. Singed tree trunks, piles of brush and toxic debris are now housed there, causing community members to wonder about the safety of the area.
So what exactly is going on at that site?
“The folks running that site are tasked with harvesting dead trees off the mountain, along with cars and burnt metal, and sorting the debris for recycling or disposal,” Felton Fire Chief Robert Gray said. “Since the trees are burnt, they’re considered hazardous material because of the carcinogens that are being emitted, so they have to be disposed of in a special manner.”
The company operating the site is called Anvil Builders. They won a bid from the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle, a part of the California EPA, to conduct the cleanup following the CZU fire. The first phase of cleanup was conducted by a different entity, and that group was responsible for removing certain toxic materials such as paints and household items that required disposal. Anvil is running phase two, and says that the pile they have there now is about a third of the total debris pulled off the mountain.
This isn’t the company’s first rodeo. After the catastrophic Camp Fire in Northern California, Anvil removed over 350,000 tons of hazardous debris from the town of Paradise. They’ve also been instrumental in post-fire cleanup in Malibu, Redding and Sonoma County.
Concerns from local residents prompted Gray to pay the Anvil Builders team a visit. Gray said he’s satisfied with what he saw.
“They’re taking precautions to make sure there’s no runoff into the river, including containment of the area. There are six to eight water trucks that are stationed by the pile, so they’re prepared to deploy their resources if needed,” he said. “Because the property is so visible, we’d see smoke pretty quickly, and could respond immediately. Most of the questions I’ve fielded from residents have been around the fuel load and the perceived fire danger.”
Gray says his biggest concern about the stockpile of debris is the stacks of brush, most of which is bone dry.
“If that were to catch fire, the potential quantity of water to put it out would be troubling. It would be like a big burn pile; it wouldn’t really travel so long as someone got on it and surrounded it quickly,” he said. “My worries were enough that I met with one of the main loggers at the site, and they showed me some of the equipment they have on site. One of their machines can take that whole pile and grind it up in one day.”
Gray said that the folks who are managing the pile are equally enthused to get it gone, and the debris won’t be there for much longer.
“It will be cleared out by the time fire season rolls around,” he said. “They are doing the hard work that needs to be done.”
Although Gray was never officially informed of the plan, he says that the Daybreak Camp property owners signed a contract, allowing their site to be used in this manner for about a year. He also mentioned other changes coming to the area.
“PG&E is going to establish a more permanent basecamp near Roaring Camp, much like what was set up at the show grounds on Graham Hill,” he said. “They’ll be bringing in office trailers and managing some of their work from that location.”
Gray’s concerns also revolved around occasional camping and other illicit activities that occur on that land.
“There are people living there on-site, but they haven’t been bothered since they’ve taken up residence,” he said.
Gray said he welcomes residents to contact his department with any concerns about anything they see that’s troubling.
“Our community is still really raw (following the fire), so whatever we can do to support our Valley, we’re happy to do it,” he said.
Updated April 6, 12:30pm: This story was updated to clarify the role of the California EPA.