The 2020 Northern Branch Fire Debris and Hazardous Tree Removal project has been selected as the ENR California’s 2022 Regional Best Project Winner in Northern California, Award of Merit – Water/Environment category.
In December of 2020, following a series of fires that swept across 1.6 million acres of land, affecting nine counties in Northern California, Sukut Construction entered into a joint venture with Pacific States Environmental Contractors and P31 Enterprises (PSP JV) for the 2020 California Northern Branch wildfire cleanup. The fire debris and hazard tree removal services covered Butte, Lassen, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Del Norte, Siskiyou, Trinity, and Yuba Counties.
The PSP JV was tasked with the preparation, removal, transportation, recycling, and disposal of asbestos, metals, ash, debris, concrete, vehicles, and contaminated soil along with hazardous trees on residential and public properties due to the wildfires. At the project’s completion, the PSP JV cleared out and safely disposed of, or recycled approximately 380,000 tons of metal, concrete, ash, and contaminated soil. Additionally, the team removed and recycled 7,000 burnt vehicles and 68,000 hazardous trees that were cut down and sent to sawmills and biomass facilities. Sukut cleared a total of 2,100 parcels of fire debris and hazardous trees.
During the duration of the project, the joint venture team encountered numerous challenges and collaboratively overcame issues to successfully deliver the project to the owner and the community. With the project spanning broad areas of northern California, the PSP JV performed extensive and detailed logistical planning for personnel, housing, equipment, trucking, food, fuel, and materials before the cleanup activities even began in each county. The logistics planning required a large amount of input from personnel performing reconnaissance, safety analyzing the work areas, and management scheduling the work. The JV utilized multiple debris transfer and metal processing yards in the more remote counties for the first time in the state’s wildfire cleanup history. This led to a more efficient operation due to trucking resource constraints and maximizing the trucking resources available to clear the parcels of debris faster and perform a mass haul-off with more strategic trucking resources near the end of the cleanup. This helped reduce the number of trucks on the road, increasing project safety, and minimizing impacts on local communities.
In addition, communication and access challenges had to be addressed and overcome quickly to prevent schedule delays. Several work areas were in locations that had little to no cellular or internet service. This posed significant challenges to the safety, coordination, and execution of the work. The PSP JV was able to mitigate this by working directly with state agencies, including CalOES to identify areas of network coverage, determine rendezvous points in case of emergencies, as well as check-in and check-out procedures. The JV also utilized radio communication, cellular boosters, and satellite phones to increase communications. The remote locations also presented difficult terrain and flowing waterways. The JV worked to perform reconnaissance and pre-planning work with local, state, and federal agencies when it came to waterway crossings and extreme terrain. The JV mitigated many access issues ahead of time so that the work could be performed efficiently. The JV deployed several temporary bridges that spanned from 25 to 140 feet long. The team performed creek crossings using filter fabric and clean rock to access parcels otherwise cut off due to flowing water. The JV worked closely with local, state, and federal agencies when planning and executing this work to ensure full compliance with regulatory requirements.
Finally, the weather presented a challenge in itself. The project duration spanned two winters and one summer season. In the winter, many project areas saw significant rain, snow, and ice, whereas the summer saw temperatures in excess of 110F. The JV also had to mitigate the impacts of several nearby wildfires that were burning during the project, creating very poor air quality conditions. The JV worked very closely with everyone to assess the impacts and how soon work could resume. This often meant that partial shutdowns of the operations occurred while others could continue.
Contributing to the community was also an important subject that was discussed very early on and called for developing innovative methods to safely perform clean-up while preserving the natural state of the already sensitive environment. Due to the nature of the project, the PSP JV had to pay extreme attention to water quality and fuel reduction. The joint venture worked closely with agencies including CalFire, the Waterboards, and CalRecycle to ensure water quality and reduce fuel hazards. This collaboration helped determine the best methods to process forest material, protect natural resources, promote regrowth of the forest floors, mitigate future fuel for fires, and filter surface water before tributaries reach a body of water. The PSP JV developed and executed a product that ensured water quality, reduced natural fuel, and provided firefighting advantages for future wildfires.
Sukut Construction is one of America’s leading heavy civil engineering general contractors with over 50 years of proven industry expertise on residential, public, commercial, and industrial projects. Sukut has received over 50 industry awards and recognitions for its unparalleled civil engineering expertise in work areas that include alternative energy, emergency response, flood control, water control, excavation, land remediation, landfill maintenance, recreation development, resorts development, shoring techniques, transportation, underground utilities, large water systems, and water infrastructure. In addition to its vast array of services, Sukut excels at developing and implementing innovative, technologically-sound solutions to confront the most challenging land development, natural resource, and environmentally friendly energy issues throughout the United States. From employing a fully GPS-guided company-owned fleet of over 275 pieces of heavy equipment to developing proprietary technology for heavy civil engineering and logistics, Sukut’s 54-year track record has elevated its work process to revolutionary and creative practice. This approach makes Sukut time and cost-efficient on every project.