Thomas Fire Cleanup & Health Resources
We do not advise ash clean-up while ash is still falling and the situation is unpredictable. Wait until conditions improve.
Firefighters need water resources to fight the fire. Please limit your outdoor watering and use for ash cleanup.
Download the Santa Barbara County Thomas Fire Ash Management Plan.
To clean ash, remember the three C's, Control, Contain and Capture:
Control: Try to control the amount of ash particles that get re-suspended into the air. Avoid using any equipment that blows ash into the air such as shop vacuums or leaf blowers. Instead, use vacuums with HEPA filters.
Contain: Contain ash by gently sweeping indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by wet mopping with a damp cloth. Ash may be disposed of in regular trash receptacles in plastic bags. You may also allow water from cleaning to drain into landscaping as ash will not hurt plants or grass.
Capture: Protect storm drains from ash and any cleaning chemicals used while cleaning by diverting away from storm drains or recapturing. Ash is highly acidic, which is harmful for people, the environment and aquatic life.
- DO NOT USE LEAF BLOWERS under any circumstances as they blow the fine particles around and create more health concerns. Alternatives to leaf blowers include:
- Sweep gently with a push broom, then hose lightly with water. Take care to conserve water. Ash can be bagged and put into trash cans
- Using a shop vacuum equipped with a high-efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) and a disposable filter bag.
- Avoid skin contact with ash. Although ash from organic materials like trees and brush is not harmful to the skin, ash from burned homes and other items will likely contain metals, chemicals, and potentially asbestos, items that may be considered toxic if breathed in or touched with wet skin. If you are cleaning ash from a burned home or car, take special care to protect your health. If you do get the ash on your skin, wash it off immediately. Some wet ash from burned homes or cars can cause chemical burns
- Inhaled ash may be irritating to the nose, throat and lungs. Use protective wear. Wear a tight fitting N95 respirator mask or P-100 mask, gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when cleaning up ash. No one with heart or lung conditions should handle ash clean up
- Avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible. If sweeping up ash, sweep gently. Use water and wet cloth or mop to clean items and surfaces
- Avoid doing activities that stir up ash. Do not allow children to play in ash or be in an area where ash-covered materials are being disturbed. Wash ash off toys before children play with them.
Clean ash off pets
- Do not consume any food, beverages or medications that have been exposed to smoke, ash, heat, pressure, or chemicals.
- Commercial cleaning may be needed for carpet, upholstery, and window treatments. Clean and sanitize utensils, glasses, dishware and food contact areas such as countertops and cupboards. To decontaminate these items:
- Wash them in a strong detergent solution
- Soak in a bleach solution of one teaspoon of bleach per quart of water. Soak for 15 minutes.
- Wash, rinse, air dry
for Cleaning Ash From a Sandbox:
- If a sandbox has a significant amount of ash covering the sand and children will be playing in it, it is safest to replace the sand.
- If a sandbox had a small amount of ash sprinkled and the ash is organic in
nature (from trees/ brush burning), it is unlikely to be harmful and could just
be left to mix into the sand. This ash is the same as one would expect from
burning wood in the fireplace.
- If a sandbox is in a location close to where homes and cars burned, the ash is most likely toxic (contains potentially hazardous chemicals). All the sand should be properly disposed of and replaced with new sand, even if there was just a small amount of ash sprinkled on the sandbox.
Additional Resources for cleanup:
Tips for Choosing Indoor Air Cleaner for Effective Indoor Smoke Removal in California
Return Home Ash Guide – English and Spanish
Handling Ash, Debris and other Hazardous Materials from Burned Structures
Management of Hazardous Wastes from Burned Areas
Guide to Disaster Assistance Services for Californians
Red Cross – Picking Up the Pieces after a Disaster – Important Steps for Your Safe and Speedy Recovery
If you have symptoms that may be related to exposure to smoke or soot, 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.
Taking Care of Your Emotional Health after a Disaster
Helping Children Cope with Disaster
Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness (mental health, counseling, crisis, etc.)