Before the victims of last month's wildfires can start rebuilding, the EPA must remove hazardous, potentially dangerous waste from the remains of people's homes.
Piles of charred propane tanks lie sorted at the EPA's household hazardous waste staging area, just north of Santa Rosa in Windsor. Other materials are likewise separated and waiting for disposal.
"Paints, solvents, pesticides, fertilizers and even ammunition," EPA incident commander Steve Calanog explained to ABC10 News Thursday morning.
The EPA began this hazardous waste collection in Napa and Sonoma counties a week ago. Two-hundred workers are in Sonoma County and about 50 are in Napa.
"Here in Sonoma, there's over 7,000 properties, of which we've done about a third as of (Wednesday) night," said Calanog. "Over in Napa, there's in excess of 700 properties, and we're a few days away from being about halfway done over in Napa."
Dozens of trucks come and go from this site every single day, Calanog said, bringing in hazardous materials, making sure they're stable and then sending them out to the appropriate disposal sites.
The EPA calls this phase one of debris recovery. Because Sonoma and Napa county officials declared a public health emergency, the EPA does not need permission to go onto people's property and remove these dangerous items, Calanog added .
For the second phase, however - the removal of remaining debris and ash by the US Army Corps of Engineers - homeowners must grant "right of entry."
"If they look at wildfirerecovery.org, we do have the application there to fill out," said Veronica Verde, FEMA external affairs officer. "That can actually start their process to have government come in and start removing the debris from the property."
She encourages all impacted homeowners to file for financial assistance through FEMA, too. So far in Sonoma County, more than 2,700 hundred people have registered and received a total of more than $4 million.
Calanog said the EPA will remain in the area until all of the wildfire-impacted properties have the hazardous household waste removed from the site, so people can move forward with the rebuilding process.