Human health and the environment are constantly threatened by wildfires. By breathing in airborne pollutants brought about by wildfire smoke, people are at risk for serious respiratory illnesses. With wildfire season almost over, does that mean that the threat has waned?
Unfortunately, not. The aftermath of a wildfire brings in all sorts of harmful pollutants – from lingering dust and ash particles, smoke, and more. The large amount of ash that is left over from wildfires can irritate your eyes, nose, or skin, as well as cause coughing and other health effects.
It’s important to do a thorough and careful cleanup when you return to your home. Here are a few things you should keep in mind following a wildfire.
Properly wear safety gears
Ensure your family has the right safety gear before cleaning up anything inside your home after you return in order to protect their eyes, noses, mouths, and skin. Wear N95 masks, protective goggles, and gloves whenever handling hazardous items brought by the wildfire.
A crucial step in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is to wear a mask because breathing in excessive amounts of smoke from wildfires can irritate your eyes and respiratory system.
Air out your home from ash debris
Since ash debris can still linger indoors, opening doors, windows, and even vents will help ventilate your home. Whenever the air quality improves, you can also let it air out through the fresh air intake on your HVAC unit.
You may want to use an air purifier or ventilation system with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. HVAC systems and air purifiers that use HEPA filters help remove particles from indoor air. Make sure that your purifier is sized correctly for the space or room you plan to use it in.
Discard items burnt with ashes
Outside and inside the home, ash can accumulate and pile up. It is important to remember that the ash you find when you return can still be hot enough to start a fire. Regardless of how much of an item has been exposed to wildfire ash or burned with it, it’s still best to dispose of it safely.
Before disposing of the ashes, allow them to cool for several days in the area. Wet the ashes down before disposing of them in a metal container. Your local government can provide trash cans for you to dispose of these items properly after you have cleaned them up.
Indoor surfaces should be cleaned with a damp cloth. For floors, a wet mop is recommended. It is not recommended to use a vacuum to clean up ash unless it has a HEPA filter. Take a shower immediately after finishing the cleanup to wash any ash or dust off your body and hair.
Monitor your Indoor Air Quality
It may take time for your indoor air quality to improve after a wildfire. With a smart indoor air quality monitor, you can be alerted when your home has unhealthy levels of pollutants before they affect your family’s health. By identifying and removing the source of pollutants, you can make the air safe to breathe again.
- Alexander, J. (n.d.). Wildfires: Interesting Facts and F.A.Q.
- Clean up safely after a disaster. (2021, September 20). Natural Disasters and Severe Weather. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/cleanup/facts.html
- Disposal of ashes. (n.d.). The City of Portland, Oregon. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://www.portlandoregon.gov/fire/article/387766
- Standards, U. S. E., ORD, Office of Air Quality Planning and. (n.d.). Protect yourself from ash.
- Wildfires and indoor air quality (IAQ). (2018, December 11). US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/wildfires-and-indoor-air-quality-iaq