As the state sets its sights on recovering from historic wildfires, the Oregon Department of Transportation will take a lead role, as part of the Oregon Debris Management Task Force, in ash and debris removal. Oregon’s Joint Legislative Emergency Board approved $50 million last week to begin this work in the eight counties affected by wildfires – Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, and Marion counties.
The 2020 Labor Day fires were the largest and most expensive disaster in Oregon’s history. Nine Oregonians lost their lives, more than 1 million acres burned and over 5,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. The state has transitioned from immediate fire response to statewide recovery. “The level of damage and magnitude of loss to Oregon’s communities cannot be overstated,” ODOT Director Kris Strickler said. “Our collective efforts to rebuild will be long-term, challenging, and will demand strong partnerships at all levels. We can – and will – do this together.”
Preparing to rebuild requires we first clean up the debris the fires left behind. Removing household hazardous waste, hazard trees, and other ash and structural debris will be a lengthy and expensive process. The wildfire cleanup process is already underway. Step 1, removal of household hazardous waste, is fully funded by FEMA and the state of Oregon and is already underway in several counties. Step 2 is removal of ash and debris.
As the lead contracting agency for Step 2, ODOT will oversee the cleanup efforts, awarding contracts for ash and debris removal. ODOT has already begun removal of hazard trees across the state, a process that could take nine months to complete. The estimated timeline for ash and debris cleanup completion is 6-18 months and includes considerations such as weather impacts, property access limitations and geographic scope.
ODOT will work in close partnership with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Emergency Management, local governments, property owners, and private sector partners. Initial estimates put the debris cleanup tally at over $600 million, including $326 million for ash and debris removal and $295 million to remove damaged trees. The estimate is preliminary and is likely to change. As debris cleanup efforts begin, the true costs of the damage will become clearer.
Property owners need to sign an access agreement, called a Right of Entry form, as soon as possible to allow crews to clean up their property for both steps 1 and 2. The sooner you sign this form, the sooner cleanup can get started in your area. If you choose to clean up hazardous waste, ash and debris outside of this process, it will be at your own cost. Removal of household hazardous waste and debris can be an expensive process, costing as much as $75,000. Even with insurance, the cost will reduce the amount of money you can use to rebuild your home.