along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Office of Emergency Services. Thousands of tons are being moved daily to the County landfill, which is creating two unavoidable new problems: Bottlenecks at the landfill are adding to traffic congestion, and the life of the landfill is being significantly shortened. These days, Sonoma County Public Works is concentrating on recovery: continued debris removal, planning for erosion control, and new traffic lights and road signs. The department is also updating its emergency plan to provide for redundant telecommunications; after losing 70 cell towers almost at once, Hoevertsz and his staff keenly appreciate being able to text in an emergency. Also, staff contact information is continually updated, along with that of contractors, and confirmation that procurement contracts are in place. Hoevertsz says the Tubbs Wildfire— which combined with other area fires to become the Sonoma County Complex Fire—has made him even more aware of the importance of what he does. “We don’t know what’s next,” he says, “but we have to keep our forces wellequipped, well-trained and prepared. It’s not just about paving potholes.”
Santa Barbara City & County: Thoughtful Planning, Long-Term Recovery
Public Works Director for the City of Santa Barbara.
and vacuuming up the thick deposits of ash throughout the picturesque town. Bjork’s department, which operates downtown parking, temporarily lifted fees to bring people back.
Because many essential PW employees live in Ventura and other towns already affected by the Thomas fire, the City arranged to temporarily lodge them close to work. Reservoirs were checked to ensure they were full, and water lines were examined to confirm they were operating properly. Bjork’s department also staged emergency generators throughout the city and readied street crews.
At the County PW, McGolpin says cleanup immediately began on a dozen watersheds affected by the fire, along with deepening 10 debris basins. On the steep Santa Ynez Mountain hillsides, transportation and road crews began clearing culverts and removing fallen trees and rocks from potential debris flows. After a fire, this is a vital, ongoing procedure, especially between winter rainstorms.
“The County of Santa Barbara is responsible for the Emergency Operations Center, so our priority was to safeguard that it could operate 24/7 as long as necessary with enough people who had the necessary knowledge and ability,” states Scott McGolpin, P.E., County Public Works Director. “Holiday vacations were already planned, and it was critical to have enough experienced people to staff the 12-hour shifts.”
In early January, less than three weeks after the end of the Thomas fire in Santa Barbara County, heavy rains lashed the burn-scarred, unstable hillsides. The storms triggered floods and torrents of cement-like mudslides, especially in the community of Montecito, killing more than 20 people at time of publication.
Ventura: Unprecedented Public Works Support
“On December 14, as the Santa Ana winds pushed the fire closer, we began mobilizing and putting employees on call,” recalls Bjork. “The next three days, December 15 through 17, were the most active for us, with mandatory evacuations in place, the police and National Guard handling roadblocks, and the County keeping roads open for the firefighters.”
At 9:06 p.m. on December 4, when she first learned about the Thomas Wildfire in neighboring Santa Paula, Mary Joyce Ivers, Fleet and Facilities Manager for City of Ventura Public Works, was attending a City Council meeting. Ivers was there as acting Public Works Director since her boss, Tully Clifford, was out of town.
The smoke and ash from what became the record-setting Thomas Wildfire arrived in Santa Barbara soon after the flames ignited on December 4 about 45 miles away. This gave public works departments in both the City and County of Santa Barbara more than a week to prepare before the conflagration raged close enough to threaten local lives and homes.
She adds that proactive communication with the community was fundamental to the City’s PW response. Its website was updated frequently, along with information through social media. “An emergency situation like a wildfire is a very emotional, stressful time for people,” she notes. “They want immediate access to information, and they need to know the city is thoughtfully replying to their concerns while also taking care of their critical needs.”
The fire was racing southwest toward Ventura, driven by hurricane-force Santa Ana winds and burning through one bone-dry acre every second. Ivers quickly left the meeting, notified her staff and joined Ventura’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Police/Fire Headquarters.
“About 10 years ago, after two other wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes and structures, we developed a thoughtful evacuation and emergency operating plan that we now implemented,” says Rebecca Bjork,
By December 18, with the Thomas Fire contained in the City and County— and no loss of lives or homes—each PW department started recovery. The City began assessing smoke damage
As the wildfire continued to grow, police evacuated 27,000 residents. The EOC focused its efforts on assisting police with street closures, especially in the city’s hillside neighborhoods. The
At 10:00 p.m., Ivers was able to briefly call her husband, Jack. He had already left their Ventura home with their two dogs and the family’s PC hard drive.
February 2018 issue of the APWA Reporter, the official magazine of the American Public Works Association