News Release


DATE: December 9, 2003

CONTACT STEVE SCHMIDT AT 619-531-4766 or 619-206-9108



SAN DIEGO - In time for San Diego County's rainy season and at the request of Vice Chairwoman Dianne Jacob and Supervisor Bill Horn, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to fund a comprehensive environmental cleanup of areas hardest hit by the Cedar and Paradise fires.

The nearly $9.5 million dollar plan calls for the removal and disposal of debris in areas affected by the fires and erosion control activities in areas already identified as at-risk for flooding. In addition, the County will provid monthly public updates on the cleanup effort.

"At this very moment, residents living in and around fire debris risk exposure to household hazardous waste, toxic ash and asbestos," said Vice Chairwoman Jacob, who warned that if fire debris is not immediately cleared, dangerous chemicals could enter waterways and reach drinking water reservoirs. "Without delay, we must tackle this immediate public health and safety threat," Vice Chairwoman Jacob said.

"Fire areas are already troubled by rats and other rodents on the hunt for food," said Supervisor Bill Horn whose district was hard hit by the Paradise Fire. "Because the fire burned a lot of the vegetation, hillsides are extremely vulnerable to flooding and mudslides. We can and must act now to protect lives and property," Supervisor Horn said.

Vice Chairwoman Jacob cited a November 26 letter to the State Office of Emergency Services authored by County Environmental Health Director Gary Erbeck to underscore the immediate need to remove fire debris.

"It is critical to the public health and safety that all debris of the completely and partially burned homes in the disaster area created by Firestorm 2003 are promptly removed, and the resulting hazardous materials and debris are properly disposed of to eliminate further risk to public and safety," Erbeck wrote.

The County is currently working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State Office of Emergency Services to craft a reimbursement plan. FEMA officials have indicated the willingness to pay back the County for all activities permissible by law.