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For Immediate Release:
August 28, 2009
For more information contact:
Public Health Communications
(213) 240-8144

Health Advisory: Practice Safe Clean-Up After Fire

LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles County Health Officer, Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, advises people to take precautions during clean-up following a fire. Ash, soot, dust, and other airborne particles may have been deposited inside and outside of homes and businesses. While ash from wildfires is relatively non-toxic and similar to ash that may be found in a home fireplace, it may be irritating to the skin, nose and throat. Exposure to ash in air might trigger asthmatic attacks in people who already have asthma.

Ash Clean-up:

  • Do not allow children to play in ash, especially in wet or damp ash.
  • Wash toys before children play with them.
  • Bathe pets to rid them of ash.
  • During clean-up, wear gloves such as household dish washing gloves, long sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid skin contact. If you do get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible.
  • If you have a vegetable garden or fruit trees, wash the fruit or vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
  • Avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible. Do not use leaf blowers or take other actions that will put ash into the air. Instead, gentle sweeping of indoor and outdoor surfaces, followed by wet mopping, is the best way to clean an area with ash. A solution of bleach and water may be used to disinfect an area, if desired.
  • Shop vacuums and regular household vacuum cleaners do not filter out small particles, but instead blow such particles into the air where they can be breathed. Use of regular vacuums is not advised however HEPA-filter vacuums could be used.
  • A dust mask, such as a surgical mask or a mask rated N- 95, may be worn during clean-up to avoid breathing in ash and other airborne particles.
  • Avoid washing ash into storm drains whenever possible. Use as little water as possible when cleaning an area of ash.
  • Collected ash may be disposed of in the regular trash by placing it in a plastic trash bag first.
  • If a job appears to be too big, hire a professional cleaning service. There are several businesses in LA County that specialize in post-fire clean-up that may be found in the phone book. Please contact a professional if there is substantial damage or destruction to a structure.
  • Food Safety:

    Some homeowners may find that their kitchens have ash, soot, dust, and other airborne particles. The following is advised to maintain food safety:

  • Plastic bottles of liquid, such as water, that have been covered with ash should be discarded. It is not enough to rinse off the bottle as these particles contaminate the caps, making them very difficult to decontaminate.
  • Food that has not been stored in waterproof or airtight containers and has been covered with ash should be discarded. This includes products that have been stored in cardboard or other soft packaging.
  • Food stored in sealed, previously unopened glass or metal cans or jars, such as baby food, should be safe for use. Clean before opening and transfer the contents to another container before eating.
  • For those that have experienced power outages, it is best to throw away perishable food, such as meat, dairy products and eggs. Items that have defrosted in the freezer during a power outage should also be discarded.
  • The Department of Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control, and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 4,000 employees and an annual budget exceeding $750 million. To learn more about Public Health and the work we do, please visit http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov or visit our YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/lapublichealth.


    Related Information Site(s): Public Health's YouTube Channel | Los Angeles County Department of Public Health