2017 Northern California Wildfires Handbook

Compiled together by the legal firm Morrison & Foerster LLP

The information below is included in the 2017 Northern California Wildfires Handbook, put together by the legal firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.  The information was current as of October 20, 2017.  To read or download the entire handbook, go to: https://www.mofo.com/culture/community/2017-northern-california-fires.html


Do I need a permit to demolish a partially-destroyed residence or to clean up debris caused by the fire?

Homeowners are advised not to conduct their own demolition of partially burned structures or perform debris or ash removal. These activities may present serious health risks due to the presence of asbestos, lead, and other hazardous materials. Homeowners may be eligible for programs sponsored by CalRecycle or other agencies to complete demolition and debris removal at no cost. If you move or spread the fire debris, you may lose your eligibility or become liable to others. We recommend that you wait until state assistance is in place to sign up for these programs. You will then need to sign a “Right of Entry” form granting permission to the responsible agency to access and clean up the property.

Additionally, if you have homeowners’ insurance that covers debris removal, you should inform the agency in charge of the cleanup and you likely will be required to pass that specific portion of the insurance proceeds through to state or federal agencies. Contact your county to determine the appropriate process in your area, or visit http://wildfirerecovery.org/debris-removal/ for updates.

If you nevertheless undertake demolition, note that, in general, demolition permits are required from city or (for unincorporated areas) county government before removing major structures. These permitting requirements may be relaxed or expedited for structures affected by the wildfires. Check with your local permitting jurisdiction for requirements before conducting any structural demolition work.

If you nevertheless undertake debris removal, be sure to wear appropriate protective clothing including face masks, gloves, and eye protection. You may be required to submit plans and obtain a permit from your local permitting jurisdiction for removal of building debris and ash and soil sampling may be required to test for hazardous substances.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has stated that immediate efforts to clean up ash, charred debris, and other contaminated materials from burned residential structures are exempt from hazardous waste permit requirements. This exemption does not apply to long-term restoration activities. Check with the DTSC for more information and advice regarding your specific situation. You can contact DTSC at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/ or (916) 255- 6504.

Am I required to send any debris I clean up to a special collection facility?

Much of the debris likely includes materials that must be properly disposed of to avoid soil or water contamination. Solid waste landfill operators may be granted special emergency waivers to accept debris they would not otherwise be allowed to accept. To the extent hazardous materials cannot be separated from other burned materials (as is likely in a burned residential structure), they may be accepted along with other debris at municipal landfills. Household hazardous materials (e.g., paints, fertilizers, automotive fluids, batteries, and electronic waste) that can be separated from other burned materials should be taken to a local household hazardous waste collector. The following website contains a list of household hazardous waste collection facilities: http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/UniversalWaste/HHW.cfm.


My primary residence, which I own, was destroyed by the wildfires. Who can help me have it rebuilt? If my residence was not insured, or the insurance is insufficient, are there any programs that might help me rebuild?

As with other types of assistance, you should first look to insurance proceeds and charitable donations to cover the costs of rebuilding and repair. To the extent you were uninsured or underinsured, the SBA, FEMA or the state may be able to help. For more information, see the SBA Loan Assistance, FEMA, and Adjustments to Regular Government Benefits chapters of this handbook.

My primary residence, which I own, was destroyed by the wildfires. Will I need a permit to rebuild it?

As a general rule, a building permit is required whenever structural work is involved or when the basic living area of a home is to be changed. This could include separate permits for roofing, electrical, heating, and plumbing. Typically, the contractor overseeing the rebuilding/repair will obtain the necessary building permits from the city or county building or planning department. See rebuilding and repair contact information for fire-affected areas below. In addition to building permits, depending on the zoning requirements in place for your residence, you may need to obtain zoning approval as well.

Following natural disasters, various cities and counties may contemplate special treatment for building permit and zoning applications submitted by wildfire victims (for instance, providing plan review and issuing building permits on an expedited basis, and at no cost for anyone whose home has been destroyed by fire). Make sure to ask or have your contractor ask about any special building permit programs available for wildfire victims.


See the following contacts for rebuilding/repair information for the fire-affected areas below.

Butte County
Development Services: (530) 538-7601, https://www.buttecounty.net/dds/building.aspx

Nevada County
Building Department: (530) 265-1222, https://www.mynevadacounty.com/1114/Building-Department

Yuba County
Building Department: (530) 749-5440, http://www.co.yuba.ca.us/Departments/Community%20Development/Building/

HUGE thanks to Morrison & Foerster, LLC, for this invaluable information!  www.mofo.com

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