SonomaCountyRecovers: Official recovery information for Sonoma County fires

Managing Your Property After the Wildfires

A fire in a home can cause serious damage. The building and many of the things in your home may have been badly damaged by flames, heat, smoke and water. You may find things that the fire did not burn up but are now ruined by smoke and soggy with water used to put out the flames. Anything that you want to save or reuse will need to be carefully cleaned. The firefighters may have cut holes in the walls of the building to look for hidden flames. They may have cut holes in the roof to let out the heat and smoke. Cleanup will take time and patience. Food facilities need to seek Environmental Health Services prior to reopening your facility. Contact Environmental Health at 707-565-6565.

Health & Safety Precautions

  • Wear sturdy shoes (steel toes and shanks are recommended) and clothing
  • Hazardous chemicals and conditions may be present
  • Inspect propane tanks for visible damage before turning on
  • Wear protective gear when sorting through possessions. Anything in contact with ash should be sanitized and cleaned.  Sorting through/cleaning burn debris is not recommended.
  • Be aware of slip, trip, fall and puncture hazards.

It is important to understand the risk to your safety and health even after the fire is out. The soot and dirty water left behind may contain things that could make you sick. Be very careful if you touch any fire-damaged items. Ask the advice of the fire department, local building officials, your insurance agent, and restoration specialists before starting to clean or make repairs. Do not eat, drink, or breathe in anything that has been near the flames, smoke soot, or water used to put the fire out.

Cleaning and sanitizing your household after an emergency is important to help prevent the spread of illness and disease.

Clean and sanitize surfaces in a four-step process

  1. Wash with soap and hot, clean water.
  2. Rinse with clean water.
  3. Sanitize by immersing for 1 minute in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/240 mL) of unscented household chlorine bleach in 5 gallons of clean water.
  4. Allow to air dry.

Please remember the following safety tips when cleaning:

  • Never mix bleach with ammonia or any other cleaner.
  • Wear rubber or other non-porous boots, gloves, and eye protection.
  • Try not to breathe in product fumes. If using products indoors, open windows and doors to allow fresh air to enter.
  • Cleaning & Sanitizing with Bleach
  • Use regular unscented 5%—6% household bleach.

Ash

All persons accessing burned structures should be aware of the potential hazards associated with those sites. Cleanup efforts at these sites may expose you to ash, soot, and fire decomposition products that can cause health effects including, but not limited to, eye/skin/respiratory irritation. If possible, try to AVOID direct contact with ash. If you get ash on your skin, in your eyes, or in your mouth, wash it off as soon as you can, with clean or sterile water. Find out more below.

  • Do not allow children to play in the ash and wash off children’s toys before children play with them.
  • Immediately wash any part of your body that touches ash to avoid irritation. The best protection for children is to keep them indoors to reduce their exposure until ash has been removed.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables from your garden thoroughly before eating them.
  • Remove shoes before entering your home or use “sticky mats” in entryways and doors to remove dust and ash from your shoes. Sticky mats are sold in hardware stores.
  • Keep pets out of ash areas and wash pets when they have been exposed to ash.

For more information:

  • Do not use leaf blowers or do any activities that will put ash into the air.
  • Covering clothing is recommended, when in proximity to ash. Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants to avoid skin contact, whenever possible. Goggles are recommended. Contact with wet ash may cause chemical burns or irritation on skin. Change your shoes and clothing prior to leaving the decontamination site, to avoid tracking ash into your car, home, etc.
  • Double bag debris and ash in plastic bags or other containers. Be sure to seal all bags or containers to prevent ash from being redistributed in the environment by wind or rain.
  • Wear a close fitting respirator mask that is rated N-95 or P-100 to block particles from ash or smoke from being inhaled. N-95 respirators are well-fitted when they do not come into contact with facial hair; strap tension is adequate, not overly tightened; and masks fit across the nose bridge.  A tight seal would not be possible for most children, even with a small adult-size model. People with heart or lung disease should consult their physician before using a respirator during post-fire cleanup.
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the only agency that certifies respirators to determine that they adequately protect people. Look for NIOSH approval on the package or label.

For more information: Returning to Home Ash Guide

  • Frequently clean indoor surfaces and follow by wet mopping to reduce exposure to ash indoors.
  • Use only high efficiency particulate air (HEPA-filter) vacuum cleaners. Shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners do not filter out small particles, but instead can put particles back into the air where they can be inhaled.

For more information: Returning to Home Ash Guide

Sensitive People

People with asthma or other lung diseases, pregnant women, and the elderly or very young should exercise special caution because they may be more susceptible to health effects from the ash.

Children

Do not allow children to play in ash. Wash and clean all children’s toys carefully after possible contamination. Children should not be in the vicinity while cleanup is in progress. Even if you care is exercised, it is easy to stir up ash that may contain hazardous substances. In addition, the exploratory behavior of children may result in direct contact with contaminated materials.

Pets

Clean ash off house pets and other domesticated animals if they have been in contaminated areas. However, it is best to not allow pets in these areas due to the potential risk to their health and their ability to spread outside of contaminated areas.

Fire ash may be irritating to the skin, nose, and throat, and may cause coughing and/or nose bleeds. Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into lungs and may aggravate asthma and make it difficult to breathe. If the ash contains asbestos, nickel, arsenic or cadmium, then exposure is a particular concern because these substances can cause cancer. Because the substances in the ash vary, it is always best to be cautious.

The following guidelines are recommended for the maintenance of pools impacted by smoke and ash contamination or fire damage. Do not allow use of the pool until the following steps have been completed:

  1. Clean skimmer baskets of debris and skim water surface of pool with pool net to remove floating debris.
  2. Brush sides and bottom of pool to loosen contaminants. Vacuum pool.
  3. Backwash and clean filter, discharging waste to municipal sanitary sewer only. If connected to a septic tank system, discharge the backwash to a pervious surface (gravel, lawn, open space) to allow for infiltration without erosion. Backwash to the storm drain system (alleys, driveways, streets, storm drains) and creeks is prohibited by law.
  4. Check pH and adjust to between 7.2 and 7.8.
  5. Check free chlorine level and adjust to minimum of 2.0 ppm.
  6. Ensure the recirculation system is operating properly by checking filter pressure and/or flow meter.
  7. Reopen pool to bathers when pH levels between 7.2 and 7.8 and free chlorine is at least 2.0 ppm and not more than 10 ppm.
  8. Due to the amount of smoke and ash in the air, these steps may need to be repeated after cleaning the filters.
  9. Alternatively, a swimming pool service company may be contracted to clean the pool. Check for their business license and experience in servicing pools. Pool service operators likewise are prohibited from discharging backwash to the storm drain system.

Deck Cleaning:  Do not hose down the deck to storm drains. You may spray water lightly to minimize dust and ashes from becoming airborne, then use a stiff brush or broom to sweep up small amounts of ash and debris. A mop and bucket could also be used for cleanup. Large amounts of ash and debris may need to be cleaned by a professional hazardous material cleanup service.

Draining Pools:  Draining of pools is not recommended. If you must drain the pool, contact the sanitation agency of your local jurisdiction for guidance. Never empty swimming pool water and/or chemicals to the storm drain. They must be drained to the sanitary sewer. Within the City of Santa Rosa call Environmental Compliance at (707) 543-3369. For unincorporated areas call the Sonoma County Water Agency, Environmental Services at (707) 521-1820 or (707) 547-1078.

Mosquito Breeding:  Pools with standing water could breed mosquitoes. Please call Marin and Sonoma County Vector Control at 800-231-3236 to have staff come and stock the pool with mosquito-eating fish until the power and pool recirculation system are restored.

Damaged Pool, Enclosure or Recirculation System:  For pools that have had damage to the recirculation system, the pool enclosure, or the pool shell, contact a pool professional for evaluation.

Household Hazardous Waste

Household hazardous waste has to be handled separately from other burn debris and may not go into local landfills. Residents are strongly urged to leave all HHW in place and are encouraged to NOT remove any HHW or damaged containers from their properties. HHW includes unused or leftover portions of products used in your home that contain toxic chemicals. Products labeled Caution, Warning, Danger, Poison, Toxic, Flammable or Corrosive are considered hazardous.

Property Tagging

Upon returning to your property you will see one of three different tags posted by the City of Santa Rosa’s Building Department – a Green Tag, a Yellow Tag or a Red Tag.

Green: The Green Tag means the structure is “Safe for Occupancy”. Your property is safe to live in, as long as you have water, electricity and gas service.

Yellow: The Yellow Tag means the structure is “Habitable but Repairs are Necessary”. Your property is safe to live in, but your home needs repairs that will require permits from the City.

Red: The Red Tag means “Limited Entry”. Your property is not safe to live in but you can access the property to search for valuables at your own risk. In some cases, there is a handwritten note on these Red Tags that reads, “Not Safe. Do Not Enter.” Absolutely do not enter these properties, not even to sift for personal property.

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