Protect Yourself and Others During Ash Cleanup

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Note: This is a compilation of information from various health and environmental organizations. Links to these resources are included at the bottom of the story.

If you have wildfire ash to clean up, be sure to take special precautions.

Cleanup work can expose you to ash and other fire products that may irritate your eyes, nose, or skin and cause coughing and other health effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Ash is made up of larger and smaller particles (dust, dirt, and soot). When deposited on surfaces indoors and outdoors, it can be inhaled if it becomes airborne when you clean up. Ash from burned structures is generally more hazardous than forest ash.

Clean-up of structures burned in the fire requires more precautions. If you are in a fire zone, please don't return to the zone until officials have cleared you to do so.

Clean-up precautions

  • People with heart or lung disease, including asthma, older adults, children and pregnant women should use special caution around ash.

  • Children and pets should not be nearby. Don't allow children to play in ash. Clean ash off pets and other animals. Clean ash off children's toys before use.

  • Avoid direct contact with ash. Wear protective clothing including a tight-fitting N95 masks, goggles, gloves, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, shoes and socks to protect yourself. If you do get ash on skin, in eyes, or in your mouth, wash it off as soon as you can. Change clothing and shoes on site to avoid tracking ash into your car or other places.

  • Avoid stirring up or sifting through ash as much as possible, such as dry sweeping. Before sweeping indoor and outdoor hard surfaces, mist them with water to keep dust down. Follow with wet mopping. Use a damp mop or wet cloth, with as little water as possible, on lightly dusted surfaces.

  • Don't use typical vacuums or leaf blowers. Instead, use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-type vacuum to clean dusty surfaces. Don't use anything that will send collected ash out into the air.

  • Wash any home-grown fruits or vegetables where ash has fallen.

  • Disposal: Collected ash may be disposed of in the regular trash. Store it in plastic bags or other containers to prevent it from being stirred up.

Resources

EPA – Protect Yourself from Ash: https://bit.ly/2Rpd4QH

OSU Extention - Yard and Garden cleanup: https://bit.ly/3hvHLOO

Oregon DEQ - Wildfire debris removal: https://www.oregon.gov/deq/wildfires/Pages/Wildfire-Debris-Removal.aspx

Red Cross – Cleaning Up After a Fire: https://rdcrss.org/3kjfi0a

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