Wildfire Ash Cleanup

Wildfire Ash Image

Asbestos Abatement for the Holiday Farm Fire

Losing a home to fire can be extremely traumatic, both physically and emotionally. There is sometimes physical injury and loss of human life in some fires, or the loss of pets. Then there is the loss of property, and items of financial or sentimental value.

With all these things to deal with, the last thing many people think about after a crisis is the hazardous nature of ash and fire debris on their property. But there are some basic things you should understand about ash to fully protect yourself, your family and in some cases, your neighbors.

Some property owners may return to the site in the immediate aftermath of the fire, if only to assess the damage. The first thing to understand before doing this is that ash and debris from burned houses, sheds and other structures can be hazardous, particularly when particles are inhaled. This ash and partially burned debris may contain asbestos, mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium and a variety of other dangerous chemicals.

If you are affected by the Holiday Farm Fire please contact LRAPA staff for abatement guidance: asbestos@lrapa.org or 541-736-1056.

Those outside Lane County should refer to guidance from the Department of Environmental Quality here.

Protect Yourself from Ash

Protect yourself from harmful ash when you clean up after a wildfire. Cleanup work can expose you to ash and other products of the fire that may irritate your eyes, nose, or skin and cause coughing and other health effects. Ash inhaled deeply into lungs may cause asthma attacks and make it difficult to breathe.

Ash is made up of larger and tiny particles (dust, dirt, and soot). Ash deposited on surfaces both indoors and outdoors can be inhaled if it becomes airborne when you clean up. Ash from burned structures is generally more hazardous than forest ash.

Avoid Ash Exposure

Avoid direct contact with ash: If you get ash on your skin, in your eyes, or in your mouth, wash it off as soon as you can.

Children and pets: Children should not be nearby while you clean up ash. Do not allow children to play in ash. Clean ash off all children’s toys before use. Clean ash off pets and other animals. Keep pets away from contaminated sites.

Food and water: Do not consume any food, beverages or medications that have been exposed to smoke, ash, heat, pressure, or chemicals.

Recommended Actions

DO NOT USE LEAF BLOWERS: Leaf blowers move fine particles around and return them to the air, creating additional health concerns. Do not use them for ash cleanup under any circumstance. Alternatives to leaf blowers include: Sweep gently with a push broom, then hose lightly with water. Take care to conserve water. Ash can be bagged and put into trash cans. Using a shop vacuum equipped with a high-efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) and a disposable filter bag.

Clothing: Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, shoes and socks to avoid skin contact. Goggles are also a good idea. Contact with wet ash can cause chemical burns or skin irritation. Change your shoes and clothing before you leave the cleanup site to avoid tracking ash offsite, into your car, or other places.

Protecting your lungs: Wear a tight-fitting respirator that filters ash particles from the air you breathe to help protect your lungs. Select a respirator that has been tested and approved by NIOSH and has the words “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “P100” printed on it. These have two straps and are available online, and at many hardware stores and pharmacies. Buy respirators in a size that can be tightened over your mouth and nose with a snug seal to your face. Surgical masks and one-strap dust masks will not protect your lungs. They are not designed to seal tightly to the face. If you have heart or lung disease talk to your doctor before using a respirator or working around ash.

Cleanup: Avoid stirring up or sifting through ash as much as you can. Avoid actions that kick ash particles up into the air, such as vigorous dry sweeping. Before sweeping indoor and outdoor hard surfaces, mist them with water to keep dust down. Follow with wet mopping. Use a damp cloth or wet mop on lightly dusted areas. When you wet down ash, use as little water as you can.

Vacuum: Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-type vacuum to clean dusty surfaces. Don’t use a typical household vacuum or a shop vacuum without a HEPA filter. They will send the collected dust or ash out into the air. Don’t use leaf blowers or do anything else that will put ash into the air.

Food and Water: Wash any home-grown fruits or vegetables from trees or gardens where ash has fallen. Avoid bringing food or eating at the affected site, unless you keep the food in a sealed container.

Disposal: Collected ash may be disposed of in the regular trash. Ash should be stored in plastic bags or other containers to prevent it from being stirred up. If you suspect hazardous waste, including asbestos, is present, contact your local hazardous waste authorities regarding appropriate disposal. Do not wash ash into storm drains.

Ash in Homes: If smoke or ash is in or on the interior of homes or buildings, commercial cleaning may be needed for carpet, upholstery, and window treatments. Clean and sanitize utensils, glasses, dishware and food contact areas such as countertops and cupboards. To decontaminate these items: 1. Wash them in a strong detergent solution 2. Soak in a bleach solution of one teaspoon of bleach per quart of water. Soak for 15 minutes. 3. Wash, rinse, air dry

View our Wildfire Ash Cleanup Fact Sheet.