Guest View: Angora fire cleanup considered a ‘gold standard’ |

Guest View: Angora fire cleanup considered a ‘gold standard’

With my recent trips to Southern California as a technical adviser to assist local government in the rebuilding of the 2,500-plus structures destroyed by the recent Southern California firestorm, I am reminded of the American spirit in South Lake Tahoe and what was accomplished in such a short time by the myriad local and state officials, agencies and ordinary people.

I know in the beginning, there were individuals who were not pleased with the coordinated debris-removal concept. However, by allowing the Angora Team to remove the ash, debris, trees and household hazardous waste, the community was able to focus on rebuilding. When I look back at the timeline, I now realize we changed the way a shattered community recovers from a wildland fire. Nowhere in the United States has a community had 256 destroyed structures removed in 45 days, the hazardous trees removed in 45 days and the erosion control completed in 30 days. We met our mission by keeping “Tahoe Blue” and not impacting the residents a second time during the removal.

The success of this project is due to the openness of the South Lake Tahoe community, the leadership, local and state government, and local businesses. With most horrible events, some positive things appear. I witnessed a community come together to rebuild in less than 120 days from the fire. I witnessed three women who lost everything bond together to form the “burned-out sisters” for support, then turned around and assisted other residences in need. I saw the true spirit of a community come back. I witnessed the first-ever coordinated debris program launch into a community after a wildland fire and change the way government does business.

What you may not know is that our project is now known as the “Angora Protocols” and has become the gold standard for coordinated debris removal in the state of California. I am proud of the team that made this happen. While this standard has not been adopted fully by the federal government in the Southern California firestorm, some of the provisions developed at Angora now are taking place, and other changes are coming. The lessons learned from the Angora fire now are helping other fire survivors get through some tough times.

In closing, I had the opportunity to go back to the Angora fire area this month, and I was astonished and humbled by the building progress. The community has taken back what the fire destroyed. I must say thank you to the local contractors, concrete and lumber companies, and El Dorado County (Board of Supervisors, building department, environmental management and transportation department) for getting these homeowners back in their homes.

Be diligent with making your home fire safe with the appropriate defensible space. Trust me on this; it was difficult for me to see this happen again in Southern California – a fire 10 times the magnitude of Angora – less than one week after completing Angora fire cleanup.

– Todd Thalhamer is a waste management engineer for the California Integrated Waste Management Board, which is one of the boards under Cal/EPA. He was operations chief for cleanup after the Angora fire.

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