NPS Site Clean-Up Effort Begins One Year After Woolsey Fire

Paramount Ranch lost almost its entire historic Western Town movie set in the Woolsey Fire. Only two buildings survived. Crews are beginning the process of testing before debris removal begins in the spring. The fencing shows the site before the fire. Park supporters are raising funds with the goal of reconstructing the site, which was a working film set for more than 75 years and a popular destination for visitors. Photo by NPS

Testing for Hazardous Materials and Debris Removal Will Be Completed by June 2020.

A new phase of the Woolsey Fire clean up and recovery is beginning on National Parks Service property in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). 

One year after the Woolsey Fire damaged 112 miles of trails and 88 percent of federal parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains, testing for hazardous materials and debris removal is finally underway where 30 structures and outbuildings once stood.

The National Park Service (NPS) was not eligible for the assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for cleaning up burned sites.

“We needed separate funds from Congress to begin work,” explained Park Superintendent David Szymanski. 

That funding was approved in June in the form of a disaster relief bill. The NPS received its share of the funds in August, a contract for site cleanup was awarded in September, but debris clearance in a National Park is complicated. 

“Strict environmental rules govern the treatment of contaminated sites,” an NPS press release states. “The process involves rigorous testing before and after treatment to ensure that materials are disposed of properly and that the site is cleaned to accepted standards.

“Since all buildings have toxins in them when they burn, testing for hazardous materials is a critical step that must be taken prior to the removal of any of the debris,” Szymanski said. “As caretakers for the public’s lands, we are required to guarantee that all toxins have been removed. We can’t just use our park equipment and haul everything off.”  

The debris consists of “vegetation, ash, contaminated soil, trees that prohibit work performance, household hazardous waste, and electronic waste,” according to the NPS. Many of the buildings destroyed in the Woolsey Fire are old enough to have had asbestos insulation and lead paint. Many of the buildings, including the Peter Strauss Ranch House and the Paramount Ranch Western Town film set, were historic landmarks. 

The testing process is expected to conclude in early 2020, with demolition and debris removal beginning in the spring.

Nothing can replace the history destroyed in the fire, but the non-profit Santa Monica Mountains Fund is raising funds to restore and rebuild the Paramount Ranch film set, once the site is cleared.

The NPS also announced that two more park units—Peter Strauss Ranch and Rocky Oaks— would reopen in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Both units have been closed since the fire with extensive damage. 

 

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is the largest urban national park in the country, encompassing more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A unit of the National Park Service, it comprises a seamless network of local, state, and federal parks interwoven with private lands and communities. As one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, SMMNRA preserves the rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities. For more information, visit nps.gov/samo. For information on the Paramount Ranch restoration project, visit samofund.org

 

Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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