How to clean up ash after Thomas Fire

OVGC member and local air quality expert Steve Colomé has some useful advice to help you clean up your homes this week:

Clean Up after a Wildfire

  • Residents and volunteers should use caution during clean-up because the process involves ashes and other sources of pollution.
  • Avoid dust and soot: People with lung or heart problems should avoid clean-up activities and areas where dust or soot is present.
  • Reduce dust and soot: Thoroughly wet dusty and sooty area prior to clean-up. This will help to reduce the amount of particles becoming airborne.
  • Cover your face: Wear an appropriate dust mask during clean-up, a HEPA-filtered one or an N-95.
  • Do not disturb: If exposure to asbestos or other hazardous materials is suspected, do not disturb the area. Dust masks do not protect against asbestos.

Source: American Lung Association – Wildfires


Don’t use Leaf Blowers!

It is especially important to avoid use of leaf blowers to clean up hard surfaces from settled ash and fire dust. That includes driveways, parking lots, patios and the like. Not only is blowing ash dangerous for the blower operator — but it is hazardous to neighbors and the community as the dust is kicked back into the air where people will breathe in this material. 

Blowing ash is not a way to clean up after a fire — it simply pushes the dust onto a neighbor’s property or into the public streets where traffic will kick it right back again. A leaf blower is simply the wrong tool for this type of very fine dust and ash.

Instead, a small amount of water mist can be used to wet the ash that has settled on hard surfaces so it can be collected and removed with a broom. Gardeners or homeowners cleaning a property should be aware not to raise a visible dust cloud.

The ash is highly irritating and toxic. The smoke and ash contains cancer-causing substances like PAH compounds and is very irritating to eyes and lungs. Fresh ash is caustic and if blown into eyes will burn and if breathed can cause permanent scaring and loss of lung function. Young children, elderly and persons with heart or lung conditions are especially susceptible to these materials. 

– Steve Colomé

Building Ash VS. Forest Ash

Suza Francina, Ojai City Councilor and OVGC liaison sent us this fact sheet on ash from the Ventura County Public Health department. Here are the first two paragraphs:

All persons accessing burned structures should be aware of the potential hazards associated with those sites. Cleanup efforts at these sites may expose you to ash, soot, and fire decomposition products that can cause health effects including, but not limited to, eye/skin/respiratory irritation. If possible, try to 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, with clean or sterile water.

Ash from burned structures is generally more hazardous than forest ash. Fire ash contains microscopic particles (dust, dirt, soot) that can be deposited on indoor and outdoor surfaces and can also be inhaled if the ash becomes airborne. Unless tested, the ash is not classified as a hazardous waste, however it may contain traces of hazardous chemicals such as metals (lead, cadmium, nickel and arsenic), asbestos (from older homes or other buildings), perfluorochemicals (from degradation of non-stick cookware), flame retardants, and caustic materials. For these reasons, it is advisable to be cautious and avoid any unnecessary exposure to the ash.

Read and print the full fact sheet here

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