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For Immediate Release:
November 10, 2018
For more information contact:
Public Health Communications
(213) 240-8144

Practice Safe Clean-up After a Fire
Public Health provides tips for safe clean-up following a fire

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 and dust (particularly from burned buildings) may contain toxic and cancer causing chemicals, including asbestos, arsenic, and lead. Therefore, in order to avoid possible health problems the following is recommended.

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. Read label on container for proper use.
  • Shop vacuums and regular household vacuum cleaners are not recommended to clean up ash. These vacuums do not filter out small particles, but instead blow such particles into the air where they can be breathed. However, HEPA-filter vacuums can filter out small particles and can be used.
  • A disposable mask with a rating of N-95 or better, which can be purchased from a home/hardware store, can be worn during clean-up to avoid breathing in ash and other airborne particles.
  • Avoid washing ash into storm drains whenever possible. Ash and soot can become very slippery when combined with water. Walk carefully, wear boots with good soles, and 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 in order to prevent the ash from becoming airborne and blowing away as the trash can is later emptied.

Food Safety:

You may have experienced a power outage or could find that your kitchen has ash, soot, dust, and other airborne particles. Follow these recommendations to avoid foodborne illness:

  • 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
  • Generally, food in the refrigerator is safe as long as the power outage is short. Food can be held in the fridge for a few hours if, while the power is out, the doors to the fridge and freezer are kept closed to maintain coldest possible temperatures.
  • If a power outage lasts several hours, it is best to throw away perishable food items such as meat, dairy products and eggs.
  • Items that have thawed in the freezer should be thrown away. Do not re-freeze thawed food. All other food items should be inspected to ensure safety. Remember, “if in doubt, throw it out.”

For More Information

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 888-700-9995