What to do after an Urban Fire
After the Marshall Fires destroyed so many homes in 2021, the lucky people whose homes were spared from the fire but still suffered from smoke damage were left wondering, what is the next step for us?
Weecycle Environmental has provided their suggestions for the best cleaning protocol to make your house safe and healthy again.
When combustion occurs during a fire, not all materials burn cleanly, resulting in smoke and soot. These waste products - solids, liquids, and gases - may be composed of various chemicals which are harmful to your health. Today’s modern structures hold an array of chemicals not found in early homes, including plastics, foams, fabrics, carpets, wood products, synthetic fabrics, wool, and asbestos-containing materials, when burned they created particulates not visible to the naked eye. Char – or non-vegetation particulates.
Simple terms: the particulates found in the homes surrounding the fire are micro particulates of plastic, metals, carpet, electronics, etc. all the non-vegetation burned up in the fire that are not quickly biodegradable, they will take months if not years to disintegrate.
If left in the property, toxic particulates exposure may occur via the skin and eyes, inhalation, and ingestion. Because airborne soot particulate is invisible, you may unknowingly be affected. Once soot enters your blood stream, it can cause a wide array of serious health issues, including respiratory issues, shortness of breath, bronchitis, asthma, stroke, heart attack, cancer, and premature death. In infants, even short-term exposure to soot has been shown to have lifelong health consequences, permanently altering developing respiratory systems.
Simple terms: these particulates that are a result of the fire are harmful to the health and need to be removed from the property. In short, they are not unlike the ones after 9/11, and we all know what they caused, granted this is not to the same degree, but the same non-vegetation particulates from manmade items that burned up.
- Professional interior cleaning of ALL surfaces and furniture by a certified Fire Restoration Company. All walls, ceilings, window cavities and floors throughout the structure should be decontaminated.
**Note – This Company should understand this is an Urban Fire Clean Up- With that, the particulates cannot just be “cleaned” as if they came from a vegetation fire. They must be extracted, via Hepa vacuum the entire property, walls, ceiling, floors, and belongings, and then all of these to be wiped down by disposable cloth, rag etc. to not cross contaminate or re-contaminate other items.
- Have HVAC system clean by certified HVAC cleaning company and filters replaced.
**Note – This should be completed by a company that uses a ROTO brush that can clean the entire duct system, not just wiped out at arm’s length
- HVAC duct runs with properly sealed seams. Seams with damage have potential of leaking increasing the risk of dispersal of contaminants into wall cavities, attics and crawlspaces.
- Wash all bedding, clothing, and soft materials in a washing machine
**Note – mattresses and cloth furniture should be re tested after cleaning to ensure that the particulates have been removed
- Once all hard surface personal items have been vacuumed with a HEPA Filter vac they can be wiped with warm water and disinfectant (bleach/simple green) and disposable wipes or paper towels. Bag all towels and dispose of them as recommended by the local fire team
Note – from above do not cross contaminate- only use disposable towels, rags, paper etc.
- It is recommended that, all cleaning and restoration activities follow Best Management Practices (BMP) available to the industry and the protocol established by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, CRC, protocol for Fire and Soot Restoration.
- Follow all Federal, State, Boulder County and local regulations associated with cleaning, demolition, restoration, and disposal.
If you have a heavily contaminated interior you may wish to have the exterior soffit of the property inspected to determine if it needs to de decontaminated and investigate migration of soot, ash and char into the wall cavities
Wildfire or burned vegetation particles, when found inside structures, are primarily composed of char and ash particles. Such contaminates are also present in the exterior, yard, neighborhood, and community and due to wind and other natural causes can produce an enduring issue until naturally degraded. It is important to continue with these follow-up process even after a thorough decontamination and cleaning has taken place in the residence.
To lessen the potential impact from ongoing contamination from exterior sources Weecycle recommends the following:
- Limit tracking outdoor residual contaminants into the house by removing shoes at the door or wearing disposable shoe covers when entering.
- Keep walkways and porches clear and as clean as possible
- Use a HEPA vacuum on all floors daily
- Clean all surfaces in entry ways with disposable wet wipes daily and perform wet wipe cleaning in other areas weekly
- Change the furnace filters weekly or biweekly while natural degrading is taking place in the outdoor environment