Last year, the Camp Fire tore across California, devouring forests and incinerating entire neighborhoods. Residents fled the flames, returning to find empty streets where their neighborhoods had been. It came only a year after the Tubbs Fire set records as it destroyed thousands of homes outside Santa Rosa.

Now that these cities are starting to rebuild, they are discovering that the damage goes even deeper than that. Soaring temperatures from the wildfires melted the PVC water pipes buried underground, causing the plastic to leech chemicals into the water and leaving the cities facing a complicated and expensive repair.

Santa Rosa was one of the first communities to notice water contamination after the Tubbs Fire cut through the Fountaingrove neighborhood, destroying 1,420 homes in 2017. Some of the subterranean damage was obvious — such as melted plastic storm drains that left behind sinkholes — but benzene contamination from overheated PVC pipes was less so.

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