An estimated 15 tons of material was cleaned up Friday morning from what the Madera County Sheriff’s Department called the largest ever homeless camp in Madera County.
A citizen complaint about the camp to the sheriff’s department led to the discovery of the location off Highway 41 between the north end of Oakhurst and the Bass Lake turnoff.
The camp had a 15-by-30-foot shed made out of wood, with a small wood stove in one corner, and water being delivered to the shed by about 100 feet of 2-inch PCV pipe from an uphill location. A small concrete walkway led to the shed.
Included in the material hauled off was an automobile, a wave runner, an estimated 2,000 pieces of clothing, auto parts, motor oil, antifreeze, paint, garden supplies, radiators, bug spray, and batteries.
The auto and wave runner were checked and not reported stolen. An investigation by the sheriff’s department will try to locate the owners.
Emadco Disposal General Manager Ashley Smith, said the company routinely cleans up illegal dump sites and small camps as a community service, but this site was beyond what he usually sees.
“This is pretty unbelievable,” Smith said while he watched a dozen young adults from the Madera County Department of Corrections Community Service Program throw material into Emadco garbage truck. “This was a very motivated group that collected all this material, but it’s an environmental disaster. There is a lot of hazardous waste here ... pretty disgusting.”
Due to the amount of material at the site, the cleanup took three days.
According to Madera County Department of Corrections Community Service Officer Richard Delgado, his group is made up of early releases from the county jail and part of their parole is serving the community.
“My Community Service Program crew have cleaned up a lot of locations throughout the county, but we have never come across this much material all in one location,” Delfadi said.
“This cleanup labor, and the cost of transporting all this to the Fairmead Landfill, if charged, would have been in the neighborhood of $10,000,” Smith estimated.
Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jack Williamson said that in addition to the gigantic mess, open pit fires at the site could have easily started a fire in the dry grass and trees surrounding the camp.
“With the amount of material here, we estimated this camp has been here for at least six months,” Williamson said.
Williamson stressed that absentee property owners need to secure their property the best they can to discourage this kind of activity.
Williamson said whoever was staying on the property must have been “hoarders,” due to the large amounts of miscellaneous material. “We know a lot homeless people in the area that go the the thrift shops around town late at night and take what people have left outside the shops.”
The cooperative clean up included Emadco, the sheriff’s department, Madera County Department of Corrections, county code enforcement, and the county who waived all fees at the landfill for all the material trucked there by Emadco. Those arrangements were made by Madera County Public Works Director Ahmad Alkhayyat.
Smith said his crews will be separating the recyclable material (metal, plastic, paper) while cleaning up the site to keep it out of the landfill.
“We have to give a big thank you to Emadco,” Williamson said. “This cleanup would not have been possible without them, including their employees who are out here helping.”
Williamson works with Sgt. Larry Rich in the department’s Problem Oriented Policing program that deals with the homeless, and transients to help make the community safer.
Citizens are urged to call the Madera County Sheriff’s Department (642-3201) if and when an illegal dump or an encampment is discovered.