Ash Clean-up Best Practices

The Thomas Fire began burning December 4, 2017 in Ventura County.  Since that time, Santa Barbara County has experienced significant smoke and ash fall from the wildland fire.  Beyond affecting air quality, the accumulated fire-related debris presents a serious safety and sanitary hazard for everyone in the community.  As you begin the process of cleaning up, please bear in mind that even though the Goleta Valley remains in drought and is under a Stage Three Water Shortage Emergency, the District’s customers are permitted to wash sidewalks, walkways, driveways, parking lots, open ground, or other hard areas as necessary to alleviate immediate safety or sanitary hazards.  (Goleta Water District Code 6.21.025.A.3)
Please remember to use a hose with a shut off valve or automatic shut off nozzle to limit the potential for unnecessary runoff or excessive water use.

The risk to your health from unhealthy air quality is based on fine particles that are not visible. Decisions about when to clean should be based on the level of fine particles and the air. Local air quality information is available at

To clean ash, wear a mask and 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 standard shop vacuums or leaf blowers. Instead, use household vacuums or shop 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 in large amounts can be harmful for people, the environment and aquatic life.

We do not advise ash clean-up while ash is still falling and the situation is unpredictable.  Wait until conditions improve.

The following is recommended for safe clean-up:

  • 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.
  • Wash food that has been exposed to ash prior to consuming.
  • 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:

    1. Wash them in a strong detergent solution.
    2. Soak in a bleach solution of one teaspoon of bleach per quart of water. Soak for 15 minutes.
    3. Wash, rinse, air dry.

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.

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