Cleaning up the ash from our homes, yards, businesses and streets will eventually help clean our air and our community, but it must be done safely. Smoke and ash can be harmful to your health and the health of those around you. The greatest risk is from fine particles that are not visible. The information below is for residents and businesses who are cleaning up ash, not those cleaning up burned structures. If your lost your home or business to the fire, you need to take additional precautions. See links below for other resources.
When you determine it is safe to clean up, PROTECT YOURSELF and remember these three C’s: CONTROL – CONTAIN – CAPTURE
Avoid cleaning up ash until conditions improve and it’s safe to be outdoors. Decisions about when to clean should be based on the level of fine particles and the air. Check your local air quality information at Today’s Air Quality.
If you have symptoms that may be related to exposure to smoke or soot, stop cleaning and consult your doctor. Symptoms include repeated coughing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, headaches and nausea or unusual fatigue or lightheadedness.
Inhaled ash may be irritating to the nose, throat and lungs. Choose a mask with two straps and make sure it can fits snugly around your nose and chin. Surgical masks, bandanas and other paper masks do not protect your lungs from the fine particles that are of greatest concern.
Wear long sleeves, long pants, closed shoes and gloves. Although ash from organic materials like trees and brush is not harmful to the skin, this precautionary measure will protect you from irritation and harm from other types of ash.
Cars driving on the street can stir up ash, so cleaning ash from the streets will help avoid future impacts. Street sweepers have vacuums with filters and contain more ash than they stir up. Leave the area or go inside if the cleaning efforts of your neighbors are impacting you.
Do not consume any food, beverages or medications that have been exposed to significant smoke, ash, heat, pressure, or chemicals.
Try to control the amount of ash particles that get re-suspended into the air.
Leaf blowers re-suspend harmful fine particles into the air and create more health concerns.
Standard household and shop vacuums re-suspend harmful fine particles and create more health concerns.
Wash ash off toys before children play with them and do not allow children to be in areas where ash-covered materials are being disturbed.
Use appropriate cleaning methods for the task at hand.
Take care to conserve water. You may allow water to drain into landscaping as ash will not hurt plants or grass.
Closed bags or containers will keep the ash from being released during collection.
Ash has a high pH and, in large amounts, can be harmful for people, the environment and aquatic life.
Divert water away from storm drains or try to filter the wash water with gravel bags, filter fabric, fiber rolls, etc., in front of storm drains. Scoop up captured ash and debris and dispose of appropriately.
Ash will not hurt plants or grass.
- Safe Clean-Up and Work Practices During and After Fires (pdf)
- County of Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management Thomas Fire Ash Management Plan
- City of Santa Barbara Street Sweeping Ash Management
- Home Clean Up After Fire: Considerations for Cleaning Up the Interior of Your Home (En Español)
- See Handout from Carpinteria Community Meeting on December 22, 2017 (En Español)
- Limpieza y Prácticas Seguras de Trabajo Durante y Después del Incendio Thomas Fire (pdf)
California Environmental Protection Agency
California Wildfires Statewide Recovery Information
California Air Resources Board
California Department of Public Health
- Reduce Exposure to Ash When Returning Home after a Fire
- Reduzca la exposición a cenizas al regresar a casa después de un incendio
Center for Disease Control
California Landscape Contractors Association, San Diego Chapter