FEMA releases federal aid for Stanislaus County

Canyon residents and emergency services officials listen during a community meeting on Nov. 17.

A second community meeting was held at Frank Raines OHV Park for residents of Del Puerto Canyon who suffered property damage and loss due to the SCU Complex fires that were sparked by lightening in August.

At a community meeting in November Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services informed residents that FEMA would not release emergency funds to Stanislaus County residents affected by the Complex fires because the monetary value of damages did not meet the federal threshold of two million dollars. After reassessing property damage more fully OES filed an appeal and Stanislaus County was granted funding that had previously been denied.

Debris removal

“The Consolidated Debris Removal Program has two phases: removal of household hazardous waste and removal of other fire-related debris including hazard trees.

In Phase one, local government, state and federal agencies have organized teams of experts from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to inspect your property and remove any household hazardous waste (HHW) that may pose a threat to human health, animals, and the environment such as batteries, herbicide, pesticide, propane tanks, asbestos siding, and paints. Phase one is automatic and includes residential properties that have been destroyed by the fires.

In phase two, Cal OES, FEMA, and local officials will coordinate with the State’s Debris Task Force to conduct fire-related debris removal from your property if you have elected to participate in the State’s program by signing a Right-of-Entry Form.”

If residents have hazardous materials on their property they are asked to contact Stan OES through their website at www.stanemergency.com where they can access information regarding the debris removal program, including the right-of-entry form.

Residents want answers

Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse and Cal Fire Deputy Chief Mike Marcucci were on hand to field questions and concerns about the handling of evacuation orders. Many residents were unaware of the evacuation orders and those who did evacuate realized later that they would not be allowed back to care for livestock.

Marcucci made the call to issue the mandatory evacuations in Del Puerto Canyon due to the rapid spread of multiple fires that overwhelmed his unit’s ability to provide protection to life and property. Stanislaus and Santa Clara County Sheriff deputies were tasked with enforcing the evacuation orders.

With no maps to show property locations, and lacking cell phone and internet service as well as radio communications in the canyon, deputies and firefighters were against the clock and the elements to evacuate as many people as possible. Marcucci and Dirkse confirmed that there were areas of the canyon that simply couldn’t be evacuated because fire had made some roadways impassable. Another significant problem that was acknowledged is that no single map showing property locations exists, putting residents and emergency responders at greater risk.

Emergency calls, texts, and emails were sent to canyon residents by various organizations (TID, PG&E, Stanislaus County) notifying them of area evacuations and power outages. Unfortunately, those weren’t received as electricity and phone lines were already out.

In light of the significant impact to life and property these fires caused and the limitations of emergency responders, Cal Fire has initiated the development of a map of ranches and structures in the canyon to aid in future events and Fire Warden Richard Murdock confirmed that the county is “working diligently” to get two radio communications towers installed.

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