Local health emergency declared in Santa Barbara County

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department declared a local health emergency for the county of Santa Barbara due to the Thomas Fire on Thursday.

The health department says the declaration is necessary to protect the community's health and facilitate safe cleanup of hazardous materials and debris after the Thomas Fire. It aims to prevent toxic exposures and threats to the public and the environment.

The declaration also allows the California Department of Toxic Substance Control or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess damaged properties and safely remove household hazardous wastes at no cost to the property owner, according to the health department. It also enables property owners to participate in a voluntary Fire Debris Clearance Program through the State Office of Emergency Services and CalRecyle.

“This declaration is similar to those issued by other California counties recently affected by wildfires, and is necessary to ensure that we have state and federal resources during our recovery process,” said Public Health Department’s Director Van Do-Reynoso.

In a news release issued on Thursday, the Public Health Department says:

Residential structure fires can result in toxic debris and ash that contain heavy metals, asbestos and other hazardous materials. Household waste such as gasoline, pesticides, paint, cleaning products and chemicals may have been stored in homes, sheds or garages and result in toxic  substances after a fire.

Exposure to these hazards can cause acute and chronic health effects. With winter rains and the potential for storms right around the corner, there is also a risk that these hazardous materials could enter critical watersheds or spread to other properties if not properly removed.

 Public Health officials say the declaration provides the following guidance:

  • No removal of fire debris from the Thomas Fire and concurrent fires in Santa Barbara County shall occur from properties without a hazardous materials inspection conducted either by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or California Department of Toxic Substances Control. The term "removal of fire debris" as used in this order includes all cleanup of fire debris, but it does not include the removal of personal property from residential sites.
  • Pending the enactment of additional requirements to address the Thomas Fire disaster cleanup, no debris bins shall be provided to property owners for the purposes of the removal of fire debris without the authorization of the Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Division.
  • Pending the enactment of additional requirements to address the Thomas Fire disaster clean up, property owners that opt out of the Fire Debris Clearance Program must register with and obtain the permission of the Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services Division before beginning the removal of fire debris and conduct their private debris removal, transport and disposal in a manner that does not endanger the community.

Both incorporated and unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County affected by the Thomas Fire are included in the local health emergency declaration. 

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