Safe Ash Clean-Up During and After a Fire

Cleaning up the ash from our homes, yards, businesses and streets will eventually help clean our air and our community, but it must be done safely. Smoke and ash can be harmful to your health and the health of those around you. The greatest risk is from fine particles that are not visible. The information below is for residents and businesses who are cleaning up ash, not those cleaning up burned structures. If you lost your home or business to the fire, you need to take additional precautions.

When you determine it is safe to clean up, Protect Yourself and remember these three Cs: 

  • Control
  • Contain
  • Capture

Protect Yourself

Avoid cleaning up ash until conditions improve and it’s safe to be outdoors. Decisions about when to clean should be based on the level of fine particles and the air. Check today’s air quality.

  • No one with heart or lung conditions should handle ash clean-up.
    If you have symptoms that may be related to exposure to smoke or soot, stop cleaning and consult your doctor. Symptoms include repeated coughing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, headaches and nausea or unusual fatigue or light headedness.
  • Use a N-95 or P-100 particulate respirator mask.
    Inhaled ash may be irritating to the nose, throat and lungs. Choose a mask with two straps and make sure it fits snugly around your nose and chin. Surgical masks, bandanas and other paper masks do not protect your lungs from the fine particles that are of greatest concern.
  • Avoid skin contact with ash.
    Wear long sleeves, long pants, closed shoes and gloves. Although ash from organic materials like trees and brush is not harmful to the skin, this precautionary measure will protect you from irritation and harm from other types of ash.
  • Protect yourself when others are cleaning around you.
    Cars driving on the street can stir up ash, so cleaning ash from the streets will help avoid future impacts. City street sweepers have vacuums with filters and contain more ash than they stir up. Leave the area or go inside if the cleaning efforts of your neighbors are impacting you.
  • Thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables from your garden before eating.
    Do not consume any food, beverages or medications that have been exposed to significant smoke, ash, heat, pressure, or chemicals.
  • Clean ash off house pets.

Control

Try to control the amount of ash particles that get re-suspended into the air.

  • DO NOT USE LEAF BLOWERS to clean up ash.
    Leaf blowers re-suspend harmful fine particles into the air and create more health concerns.
  • Use only household vacuums or shop vacuums with HEPA filters.
    Standard household and shop vacuums re-suspend harmful fine particles and create more health concerns.
  • Do not allow children to play in ash.
    Wash ash off toys before children play with them and do not allow children to be in areas where ash-covered materials are being disturbed.

Contain

Use appropriate cleaning methods for the task at hand.
 

  • Sweep gently with a push broom, then mop with a damp cloth or hose lightly with water.
    Take care to conserve water. You may allow water to drain into landscaping as ash will not hurt plants or grass.
  • Scrape ash and debris into plastic bags and dispose in the regular trash.
    Closed bags or containers will keep the ash from being released during collection.
  • Commercial cleaning may be needed for carpet, upholstery, and window treatments.

Capture

Ash has a high pH and, in large amounts, can be harmful for people, the environment and aquatic life.

  • Protect storm drains from ash and cleaning chemicals.
    Avoid washing ash into storm drains whenever possible. Divert water away from storm drains or try to filter the wash water with gravel bags, filter fabric, fiber rolls, etc., in front of storm drains. Scoop up captured ash and debris and dispose of appropriately.

Learn More

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