County health officer declares health emergency due to fires

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San Mateo County’s health officer declared a local health emergency Wednesday in areas impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex fires, “after determining that hazardous waste that may be on site is an immediate threat to public health,” the County said.

Debris and ash from structure fires “can contain hazardous substances such as building materials or chemicals from household items,” according to County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow.

The declaration, set to be ratified at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Sept. 15, expands an Aug. 28 emergency regulation to allow temporary access to private property for damage estimates.

“The new declaration further clarifies that County staff and contractors can enter private property as necessary to remediate hazardous waste or waste that could become hazardous,” the County states.

The action could also free up additional funding to help local communities recover from the CZU Lightning Complex fires, which began Aug. 16 and have covered 86,609 acres across both San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. The fire is currently 83 percent contained and has destroyed at least 1,490 structures, including 59 in San Mateo County.

“The emergency declaration will help ensure the safety of our residents as they return home, as well as our environment, by facilitating the removal of toxic metals and hazardous materials from the burned areas,” said Environmental Health Services Director Heather Forshey.

For more information on the fire recovery, visit here.

Photo credit: San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office