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.
Fire ash may be irritating to the skin, nose and throat may cause coughing and/or nose bleeds. Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into lungs and may aggravate asthma and may make it difficult to breathe.
- Refrain from cleaning ash and fire debris until professional hazardous material cleanup services are secured. When exposure to dust or ash cannot be avoided, use a well-fitted NIOSH-certified air-purifying respirator N-95 mask.
- Children should not be in the vicinity while cleanup is in progress. Even if 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.
- Clean ash off house pets and other domesticated animals if they have been in contaminated areas. 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.
- Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants to avoid skin contact. 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.
- Do not use your water if you suspect or have been told it is contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water.
- If you have a drinking water well, listen to your local health authorities for advice on using your well water.
Keeping hands clean during an emergency helps prevent the spread of germs. If your tap water is not safe to use, wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected. Follow these steps to make sure you wash your hands properly:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together (20 seconds) to make a lather and scrub them well.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
A temporary hand washing station can be created by using a large water jug that contains clean water.
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers DO NOT eliminate all types of germs.
If Returning to Inhabit Your Home/Business
Please use caution and follow guidance provided about in addition to the following:
- Foods exposed to fire can be compromised!
- Food in cans or jars may appear to be okay, but if they've been close to the HEAT of a fire, they may no longer be safe. Heat from a fire can activate food spoilage bacteria. If the heat is extreme, the cans or jars themselves can split or rupture, rendering the food unsafe.
- One of the most dangerous elements of a fire is sometimes not the fire itself, but TOXIC FUMES released from burning materials. Toxic fumes can permeate the packaging and contaminate the food. Any type of food stored in permeable packaging (cardboard, plastic wrap, etc.) should be thrown away. Discard any raw foods stored outside the refrigerator such as potatoes or fruit that could be contaminated by fumes. Food stored in refrigerators or freezers can also become contaminated by fumes. The refrigerator seal isn't airtight and fumes can get inside.
- Chemicals used to fight fires contain toxic materials and can contaminate food and cookware. Foods that are exposed to chemicals should be thrown away. This includes food stored at room temperature, such as fruits and vegetables, as well as foods stored in permeable containers like cardboard and screw-topped jars and bottles.
Reheating food that has become contaminated will not make it safe!
When in doubt, throw it out!
Cleaning and Sanitizing
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
- Wash with soap and hot, clean water.
- Rinse with clean water.
- 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.
- 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.
Property owners should exercise caution and use proper protective equipment when handling any ash or hazardous materials from their property. Improper handling and disposal can be harmful to property owners, children and the general public. Small scale sifting through ashes to locate any remaining personal items will not impact residents' ability to get financial assistance. However, unauthorized large scale removal of debris and ash should be coordinated with government officials prior to removal.
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.
Ash from burned structures is generally more hazardous than forest ash. Fire ash contains microscopic particles (dust, dirt, soot) that can be deposited on indoor and outdoor surfaces and can also be inhaled if the ash becomes airborne. Unless tested, the ash is not classified as a hazardous waste, however it may contain traces of hazardous chemicals such as metals (lead, cadmium, nickel and arsenic), asbestos (from older homes or other buildings), perfluorochemicals (from degradation of non-stick cookware), flame retardants, and caustic materials. For these reasons, it is advisable to be cautious and avoid any unnecessary exposure to the ash.
Health Effects of Ash
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When exposure to dust or ash cannot be avoided, use a well-fitted NIOSH-certified air-purifying respirator mask. This type of mask can be purchased from most hardware stores. A mask rated N-95 is much more effective than unrated dust- or surgical-masks in blocking ash particles. Although smaller sized masks may appear to fit a child’s face, manufacturers do not recommend their use for children. If your child is in an area that warrants wearing a mask, you should remove them from that area to an environment with cleaner air. Persons with heart or lung disease should consult their physician before using a mask during post-fire cleanup.
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.
What does that tag mean?
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.
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.
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.
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.