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Residents are urged to take precautions when cleaning ash from their cars, homes and driveways because of the Holy Fire.

Riverside’ County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser warned, “Just because it’s burned up doesn’t make it safe. Ash can be toxic even in small quantities depending on where it came from.”

Officials stressed the importance of not beginning clean-up efforts while ash is still falling, and the situation continues to be unpredictable—wait until conditions improve. 

According to Kaiser it is also imperative for residents to avoid skin contact with ash. This is important because the ash from burned homes and other items will likely contain materials such as metals, chemicals, and potentially asbestos that can be toxic if breathed in or touched with wet skin.

Officials also cautioned that if you do get potentially toxic ash on your skin, wash it off immediately and thoroughly because in some instances, wet ash can cause chemical burns.

Inhaling ash may be irritating to the nose, throat and lungs. So, to help avoid possible health problems, Kaiser provided a series of recommendations as follows: 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; Clean-up of larger quantities of ash should never be done by people who have lung or heart conditions.

The recommendations continued: avoid sweeping up dry ash into the air–sweep gently with a push broom; use water and wet cloth or mop to clean items and surfaces and then hose lightly with water. Ash can be bagged and put into trash cans.

A shop vacuum equipped with a high-efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) and a disposable filter bag can also be used to pull up moistened ash. Never use a leaf blower because it can stir up ash and break large particles into smaller, more hazardous particles. 

Kaiser further cautioned, if you must clean up a larger quantity of ash, wear a tight-fitting respirator mask (such as an N95 or P100 mask found at hardware stores), gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants. The mask should cover your mouth and nose and seal properly.

   It is important to understand, larger ash particles can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. Over time, ash particles break down into smaller, more harmful particles that can lodge deep into our lungs, causing serious health effects, including aggravated asthma, bronchitis, and lung damage. The particles are also small enough to get into our bloodstream and have other toxic effects.

It you experience symptoms you believe may be the result of exposure to smoke or soot, consult your doctor. Such symptoms include repeated coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, headaches and nausea or unusual fatigue or lightheadedness.