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How to Safely Clean Up Ash and Debris From Burned Buildings

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If your home was burned by a wildfire

Losing a home to fire can be extremely traumatic, both physically and emotionally. With many things to deal with after a wildfire, the last thing many people think about is the hazardous nature of ash and fire debris on their property. But there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself, your family and your neighbors from the hazards on your property.

Stay safe

Ash and debris from burned houses, sheds and other structures can be hazardous, particularly when particles are inhaled. Ash and partially burned debris may contain asbestos, mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium and a variety of other dangerous chemicals.

  • Be aware of all electrical hazards, including those from downed power lines or other electrical sources, as well as hazards from unstable walking surfaces and sharp objects buried in the ash. Use extreme caution at all times when near fire debris.
  • Wear sturdy footwear, eye goggles, a properly fitted N95 respirator and heavy-duty work gloves. If possible, wear disposable coveralls and dispose of them after use. If you do not wear disposable coveralls, change into a clean set of clothes after working or rummaging in debris and ashes.
  • Cloth face coverings, paper masks and bandanas are not effective at filtering out fine airborne ash, dust or asbestos fibers. N95 respirators, if properly worn, can offer protection from airborne particles.
  • Don't use a leaf blower to clean up ash. It will create more airborne particles. Ash must be adequately wetted to control dust that can become airborne. Water may not always be available, but it is one of the most important means to control ash and asbestos. When cleaning with water, please ensure water containing ash is not washed into the stormwater system or into surface waters. Water containing ash can cause water quality issues.
  • Children should not be involved in cleanup activities. Do not let children near the debris or in an area where they might breathe airborne particles left from the fire.
  • Wash any recovered personal items with water or wipe with a damp cloth to remove potentially toxic dust. Ensure water containing ash is not washed into the stormwater system or into surface waters. Water containing ash can cause water quality issues.

Steps for cleaning up ash and fire debris:

  • Contact your insurance provider before you begin cleanup to learn of requirements they may have for reimbursement.
  • Contact your county or city code enforcement agency to determine their cleanup requirements for new construction permits.
  • Determine if the ash and debris contain asbestos. Many homes and buildings have materials with asbestos. State rules govern various aspects of managing and removing asbestos. You can hire an accredited inspector to survey your property for asbestos-containing materials, or you can presume that all debris and ash contain asbestos. DEQ strongly recommends hiring a licensed abatement contractor to perform any abatement activities. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and there is no known safe level of exposure. Find more information about asbestos requirements on DEQ's asbestos webpage, or contact DEQ prior to starting any ash or debris cleanup activities.
  • Contact your local waste disposal site to learn what requirements they have for waste acceptance. Many landfills require specific documentation of the waste you drop off so they can handle it properly and comply with regulations. This can include lab results to determine what hazardous materials are in your debris. If you do not have the proper documentation, you may not be allowed to dispose of your debris.
  • Cover ash and debris loads during transport. Additionally, asbestos containing waste materials must be packaged properly for transport and disposal. This means double bagging the material in 6 mil plastic sheeting and labeling it as asbestos.
  • Recycle metal, concrete and wood debris. Clean recyclable materials with water prior to transport to reduce the spread of asbestos or other contaminants in the ash. Do not discharge water containing ash into the stormwater system or surface waters, as it can cause water quality issues.
  • Protect waterways while you clean up your property
  • Learn what to do about your septic system.

Contact DEQ for help if you:

  • Have concerns about asbestos on your property, or if you find evidence of asbestos fibers and want to know more about how to ensure safe disposal.
  • Need advice on how to properly dispose of household hazardous wastes such as bleaches, cleaners, paints or oils.
  • Need assistance with the inspection or replacement of septic systems.

DEQ asbestos and solid waste contacts

Portland: Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Multnomah, Tillamook, Washington counties
  • Asbestos: 503-229-6351 or 800-452-4011
  • Solid Waste: 503-970-4890
Salem: Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Yamhill counties
  • Asbestos: 503-378-5086 or 800-349-7677
  • Solid Waste: 541-686-7868
Coos Bay: Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine counties
  • Asbestos: 541-269-2721, Ext. 222
  • Solid Waste: 541-776-6148
Bend: Crook, Deschutes, Harney, Hood River, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Sherman, Wasco counties
  • Asbestos: 541-633-2019 or 866-863-6668
  • Solid Waste: 541-298-7255, Ext. 225
Pendleton: Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wheeler counties
  • Asbestos: 541-278-4626 or 800-304-3513
  • Solid Waste: 541-298-7255, Ext. 225
Eugene: Lane, Lincoln, Linn, or Marion counties
  • Asbestos (Lane Regional Air Protection Agency): 541-736-1056
  • Solid Waste: Craig Filip 541-686-7868
Medford: Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine counties
  • Solid waste: David Esch, 541-776-6148