Safe Cleanup of Fire Ash

fire_ash.jpg Fires deposit large amounts of ash on indoor and outdoor surfaces in areas near the fire. Questions have been raised about possible dangers from contact with the ash and safe disposal procedures. The ash deposited by forest fires is relatively nontoxic and similar to ash that might be found in your fireplace. However, fire ash may be irritating to the skin, especially to those with sensitive skin. If the ash is breathed, it can be irritating to the nose and throat and may cause coughing. Exposure to ash in air might trigger asthmatic attacks in people who already have asthma. Therefore, in order to avoid possible health problems, the following is recommended.

Checkmark red Do not allow children to play in the ash.

Checkmark red Wash ash off children’s toys before children play with them.

Checkmark red Clean ash off house pets.

Checkmark red Wear gloves, long sleeved shirts, and long pants and avoid skin contact.

Checkmark red If you do get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible.

Checkmark red If you have a vegetable garden or fruit trees, wash the fruit or vegetables thoroughly before eating them.

Checkmark red 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.

Checkmark red Shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners do not filter out small particles, but rather blow such particles out the exhaust into the air where they can be breathed. The use of shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums is not recommended. HEPA filter vacuums could be used, if available.
Well-fitting dust masks may provide some protection during cleanup. A mask rated N-95 or P-100 will be more effective than simpler dust or surgical masks in blocking particles from ash. In general, many ash particles are larger than those found in smoke; thus, wearing a dust mask can significantly reduce (but not completely eliminate) the number of particles inhaled.

Checkmark red Gentle sweeping of indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by wet mopping is the best procedure in most cases. A damp cloth or wet mop may be all that is needed on lightly dusted areas.

Checkmark red Avoid washing ash into storm drains whenever possible.

Checkmark red If ash is wet down, use as little water as possible.

Checkmark red Collected ash may be disposed of in the regular trash. Ash may be stored in plastic bags or other containers that will prevent it from being disturbed.

Checkmark red Ash and debris inside burned structures may contain more toxic substances than forest fire ash because of the many synthetic and other materials that may be present in buildings. Older buildings in particular may contain asbestos and lead. A more cautious approach should be taken in the removal of ash and other debris from inside burned structures.