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Time running out to sign up for hazardous fire debris cleanup

Time is running out for property owners to sign up for the free cleanup of hazardous debris left behind by the Almeda fire.

Contractors working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have completed more than 90% of the hazardous waste cleanup on properties where owners signed a right-of-entry form, Jackson County officials announced Wednesday night.

Government-funded crews won’t go onto people’s property without that permission.

The right-of-entry form is available at www.jacksoncounty.org/roe.

Starting Friday, the EPA will start downsizing its cleanup operation in Jackson County. More than 100 team members who have been working here will start heading to other disaster sites in the state, which was hard-hit by destructive September wildfires.

A small team will remain in the area to clean up scattered properties as lagging right-of-entry forms come in, county officials said.

“We are working hard to get rights-of-entry from all property owners so that we can get the cleanup going before EPA pulls out,” said Jackson County Emergency Operations Center Director John Vial. “At some point, EPA will not be here and this opportunity will be lost.”

Some property owners are concerned participating in the free hazardous waste cleanup could somehow cut into the amount of insurance money they will get for rebuilding.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there that is confusing fire-affected property owners,” Vial said. “By signing a ROE and allowing the state to clean up your property, no federal, state or local agency will recoup money from your insurance that would have otherwise gone toward rebuilding your home.”

The cities of Talent and Phoenix have joined Jackson County in encouraging property owners to sign the right-of-entry forms as soon as possible and not try to clean up hazardous materials on their own.

Hazardous materials must be removed by qualified workers and sent to disposal facilities licensed to handle the different types of materials, which range from household bleach to ammunition to batteries.

After hazardous materials are cleaned out from sites, the larger phase two task of hauling away remaining debris like rubble and ash can begin. The cost of most of phase two is being covered by government agencies.

Property owners can choose to join just the hazardous debris cleanup, or both the hazardous debris and general debris cleanup.

They may be asked to contribute money for phase two if they have insurance settlement money specifically earmarked for debris cleanup — but not money needed to rebuild.

Manufactured home parks and apartment buildings won’t necessarily be included in the government-coordinated phase two cleanup effort because they are commercial properties.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency generally expects businesses to carry enough insurance to clean up and rebuild after a disaster.

Jackson County plans to request that commercial property, including mobile home parks, be included in the general debris cleanup effort.

The Almeda fire destroyed 2,482 residential structures, including houses, apartment complexes and manufactured homes.

The fire destroyed 173 business structures.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Hazardous debris cleanup crews are nearing the end of their work in the Almeda fire zone. Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune