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Health and Safety Tips for Wildfire Ash Cleanup

The recent wildfires in Orange County have deposited large amounts of ash and soot on indoor and outdoor surfaces, which can pose risks to health and environmental quality. Here are some tips to clean up safely: 

Around the Home

  • In most cases, gently sweeping indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by wet mopping is the best way to clean up ash residue. A damp cloth or wet mop may be all that is needed on lightly dusted areas.
  • If you wet down ash, use as little water as possible and push wash water into a vegetated area -- NOT into the storm drain.
  • If you have solar panels, clean them as soon as possible, as ash can severely reduce the solar energy output. Simply wash the ash off with air or water. Do not use a pressure washer. If fires continue, you may need to clean your solar panels more than once.
  • DO NOT USE LEAF BLOWERS under any circumstances as they blow fine particles around and create more health concerns.
  • Avoid circulating ash into the air as much as possible by using a HEPA filter vacuum. Do not use shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums, as they do not filter out small particles and can blow particles into the air.
  • Well-fitting dust masks may provide some protection during cleanup. Masks rated N-95 or P-100 are more effective than simpler dust or surgical masks. However, wearing a dust mask can significantly reduce (but not completely eliminate) the amount of particles that are inhaled.

Avoid possible health issues

Ash from forest fires is relatively nontoxic; however, all ash contains small amounts of cancer-causing chemicals. Fire ash may also irritate the skin, nose, throat and lungs.

  • Do not allow children to play in the burn debris or ash areas.
  • Wash ash from toys and play equipment before allowing children to play with them.
  • Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when cleaning ash, and avoid skin contact. If ash does get 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.
  • Do not consume any food, beverages, or medication that has been exposed to burn debris or ash.
  • Clean all utensils, glasses, and dishware before use that may have been exposed.
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