Wildfires can leave lingering smoke and ash in people’s homes and businesses. When you return to a home or business that has survived a wildfire, it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself and your family from inhaling smoke and ash. Smoke and ash can cause lung and heart problems.
Protect yourself and your family when cleaning up after a wildfire:
- If you see ash or a layer of dust, keep children away until it has been cleaned.
- Cloth face coverings, paper masks or bandanas are not effective at filtering out fine airborne ash, dust or asbestos fibers. N95 or KN95 respirators, if properly fit tested and worn, can offer protection from airborne particles. Oregon OSHA offers a video on how to correctly wear N95 respirators.Be aware that counterfeit KN95 respirators are on the market. The CDC has tips on recognizing counterfeit KN95s.
- Do not use a leaf blower. Avoid activities that could stir up ash and make it airborne again, like using a leaf blower, dry sweeping or vacuuming without a high efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter.
- Use rubber gloves when cleaning up ash. Wash any ash off your body or clothing right away.
- To clean up ash outdoors: Gently dampen the ash – do not use a pressure washer, which will generate dust before it wets things down. Then use a vacuum with a HEPA filter if you have one. Do not use a leaf blower or regular wet/dry vacuum to clear ash because it will put more harmful particles into the air. If you don’t have a HEPA-equipped vacuum, gently sweep or scoop up the ash.
- To clean up ash indoors: Use a damp cloth to clean surfaces indoors. Use a wet mop on floors. Do not use a vacuum to clean up ash unless it has a HEPA filter.
- Turn on an air purifier or ventilation system with a HEPA if you have one. HEPA filters in your indoor heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system and air purifiers can help remove particles from indoor air. Make sure your purifier is designed for the size of the space or room where you plan to use it.
Learn more from this page from the Department of Environmental Quality.