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Wildfire Ash Cleanup & Health Resources

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 you lost your home or business to the fires, 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

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 up by diverting run-off away from storm drains or by recapturing it. 


  • DO NOT USE LEAF BLOWERS under any circumstances as they blow fine particles around and create more health concerns.  Alternatives to leaf blowers include sweeping gently with a push broom (ash can be bagged and put into trash cans), then hosing lightly with water, or 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 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. 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 (e.g. soak in a bleach solution of one teaspoon of bleach per quart of water.  Soak for 15 minutes.  Wash, rinse, and air dry).


Home Cleanup of Ash


County of Santa Cruz CZU Lightning Complex Fire Resources

Monterey County OES Virtual Local Assistance Center

CAL FIRE Post Wildfire Recovery

Cal EPA - Debris Removal

American Red Cross - Cleaning Up After A Fire


PDF: Monterey County - Tips For Returning Home Safely & Beginning Recovery After The Fires

PDF: California Dept of Public Health - Reduce Exposure to Ash When Returning Home

PDF: Departamento de Salud Pública de California - Reduzca la exposición a las cenizas al regresar a casa