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Fire Relief

Returning to your home or neighborhood after a wildfire
Contact your insurance provider before doing any cleanup efforts.

Health Information

Smoke and dust can worsen symptoms for those who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Typical symptoms may include:


  • Difficulty breathing normally

  • Cough with or without mucus

  • Chest discomfort

  • Wheezing and shortness of breath

  • Seasonal allergies and increased pollen made worse by smoke

  • Particulate matter (PM) - extremely small particles or droplets of pollution in the air are inhaled, making respiratory symptoms worse.


Particulate-laden smoke can also worsen cardiac disease. Inhaled particles trigger the release of chemical messengers into the blood that may increase the risk of blood clots, angina episodes, heart attacks and strokes. People with chronic cardiac conditions are more susceptible to chest pain, heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmias, acute congestive heart failure or stroke.


Even people without lung or cardiac disease may become symptomatic if the smoke is thick enough.


If wildfire smoke is triggering mild symptoms, National Jewish Health doctors recommend:

  • Taking your medications as prescribed if you are on medication.

  • Using your rescue inhaler if your doctor has recommended one.

  • Staying indoors as much as possible.

  • Limiting exercise outdoors.

  • Considering leaving the area if smoke is making you sick, until the air is clear again.

  • Consulting your physician if respiratory or chest symptoms become severe.

Tetanus Risk after a Fire:

After a wildfire, there is risk of injury as cleanup efforts begin. Tetanus is a concern for persons with both open and closed wounds, and a tetanus vaccination is recommended for all residents returning to the burn area who have not had a documented dose within the past ten years. Prompt first aid management for wounds and prevention of infection is another important consideration.

If you receive a puncture wound or a wound contaminated with feces, soil, or saliva, a health care professional should determine if a tetanus booster is necessary, based on individual records.


Tetanus Prevention:

  • Patients without a clear history of receiving at least three tetanus vaccinations and who have any wound should get the tetanus immune globulin (TIG) as well as the tetanus vaccination.

  • Tetanus in the United States is most commonly reported in people older than 40 because they are less likely to be adequately vaccinated.

  • Women over 55 years of age are especially susceptible because they likely do not have protective levels of tetanus antibody.

  • Diabetics are at increased risk for tetanus. Reported tetanus is about three times more common in diabetics, and fatalities are about four times more common.

  • Non-acute wounds account for about 1 in 6 cases of reported tetanus; 1 in 12 reported cases had no reported injury or lesion.

If you'd like more information about receiving a Tetanus shot please contact:  
Trish McClain (970) 867-4918 x2248 


Environmental/ Home Information

Safe Cleanup After a Fire



  • Do not consume any food, beverages, or medication that has been exposed to burn debris or ash. Clean all utensils, glasses, and dishware before use by:

    • washing them in a strong detergent solution and then soaking them in a bleach solution of one teaspoon of bleach per quart of water for 15 minutes, or

    • using the long dishwasher wash cycle as long as the dishwasher is debris free, heats water to at least 140F, and has a heated drying cycle.


Indoor Air

Avoid circulating ash into the air as much as possible. Do not use shop vacuums and other non- HEPA filter vacuums, as they do not filter out small particles and can blow particles into the air where they can be breathed in. HEPA filter vacuums can be used, if available.

  • Well-fitting dust masks may provide some protection during cleanup. Masks rated N95 or P100 are more effective than simpler dust or surgical masks in blocking particles from ash. Wearing a dust mask can significantly reduce (but not completely eliminate) the amount of particles that are inhaled.

  • Persons with heart or lung disease should consult with their physicians before using a mask during post-fire cleanup.

  • In most cases, gently sweeping indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by wet mopping is the best way to clean up ash residue. A damp cloth or wet mop may be all that is needed on lightly dusted areas.

  • If you wet down ash, use as little water as possible.

  • Collected ash may be disposed of in the regular trash. Ash may be stored in plastic bags or other containers to help prevent it from being disturbed.


Handling Smoke Damage after a Fire – Getting Soot and Smoke Out

You may be anxious to clean your home after a fire, but unless you take the time to get professional advice, you may be wasting your efforts or creating further damage. Contact your insurance agency immediately once the fire is out. He or she can provide advice on restoration or replacement of damaged items. If you rent, notify the owner so both of you can assess the damage. Your insurance agent may be able to recommend a professional fire restorer. Fire restorers can provide hints to prevent further damage, help determine which items can or cannot be refurbished, and provide estimates and services for thoroughly cleaning and deodorizing your home. You can find the names of fire restorers in the yellow pages of the phone directory under “Carpet and Upholstery Cleaners” or “Fire and Water Damage Restoration.”


Removing Smoke Odor from Textiles

Smoke odor may remain in clothing, upholstered furniture, carpets and draperies unless they are properly deodorized before cleaning. Professional assistance is recommended.

Consult professional fire restorers and/or dry cleaners about using "counteractants," chemicals or additives that break up smoke molecules to eliminate odors. The type of counteractant used will vary with the type of material burned in the fire. Counteractants may be professionally applied to furniture, carpets and draperies. Restorers also may provide them for laundering clothes.

Fire restorers and dry cleaners sometimes use an ozone treatment to break up smoke molecules and eliminate odors. If the process is done in the home, items are put under a tent while an ozone generator is operating.

Keep in mind that most household deodorizing sprays and disinfectants provide only temporary relief. In addition, deodorizing sprays may interact with smoke odor and create an additional odor. If you are unable to have clothing or similar textiles professionally treated, try one of the following methods:

  • Dissolve one cup of dishwashing detergent—the type used in an automatic dishwasher—in one gallon of warm water.

  • Completely submerge the items and let them soak all night in your washing machine or bathtub. Drain and launder as usual the next day.

  • For items that can be bleached, mix 4 to 6 tablespoons trisodium phosphate (available from your hardware store) with 1 cup Lysol or household chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water. Add clothes, rinse with clear water and dry.


Cleaning Furnishings and Clothing

After deodorizing, it's time to clean household textiles. Take non-washable clothing and draperies to a dry cleaner for traditional dry cleaning or a special cleaning process. Wash regular clothing in warm water with a liquid detergent. Several launderings may be needed.

Have carpets cleaned twice—both before and after repairs. Wet carpets must be dried before cleaning. In some cases, removal of carpet is necessary for complete drying and to save the wood floor beneath.



Cleaning Soot Stains from Walls

If possible, use a chemical sponge available from a cleaning supply company or some other non- water-based cleaner to clean soot from walls.

Paint thinner or rubbing alcohol may work, but use with caution because of toxicity and fumes. Wear rubber gloves, open all windows and use an electric fan to increase ventilation while working.

Do not use a water-based cleaner on plaster walls. It will cause the stain to bleed into the wall.


Removing Smoke Odor from the Home

During a fire, smoke can permeate walls and other surfaces and drift through household ducts, where it becomes trapped. If not properly removed, smoke odor reoccurs from time to time, especially during warm or damp weather.

Consult professional restorers about a process known as "thermal fogging." This warm chemical fog penetrates your home and walls just as the fire did, neutralizing the smoke odor as it goes.

Consult restorers about smoke removal from ducts. They may use a chemical sealer to secure smoke permanently to the sides of ducts since these areas, with their joints and crevices, may be difficult to clean with conventional vacuum-and-brush methods. Consider replacement of attic insulation. Insulation may retain odors.


Source: University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service 


Wells and Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (Septic Systems) after a Wildfire

Your well or OWTS (septic system) could be adversely affected by fire, power outages, equipment failure, or contamination of water supplies.


Private Wells/Water Systems

Perform a visual inspection of your well and other components which are part of your water supply

system, including:

  • Damage to electrical wires and wire connectors which supply power to your well

  • Damage to above ground PVC plastic pipes used with the well to bring water to your house

  • Damage to well houses and special equipment (chlorinators, filters, electronic controls)

  • Damage to pressure tanks which could have been caused by exposure to excessive heat

  • Damage to storage tanks, vents and over-flow pipes

  • If you find damage to your well or water system, contact an appropriate contractor to repair the damage.

  • If your water tastes or smells earthy, smoky or burnt, you may need to thoroughly flush your water lines.

  • If your system has been damaged or if you are in doubt about the safety of your water, you may want to have your water tested.  Contact the Northeast Colorado Health Department.

  • Each person in a household will need at least one gallon of water per day for drinking, cooking and general hygiene.  If you suspect that your water supply may have been compromised during the fire, bring plenty of bottled water with you when returning to your home.

  • If you do not have water that you know is safe, it is possible to purify the water for drinking purposes.  Start with the cleanest water you can find and treat it by one of the following methods:


Chemical Disinfection:

Treat the water with household-strength liquid chlorine bleach (do not use scented bleach products).

Add bleach according to the table below, stir or shake; allow water to stand for 30 minutes before drinking.

Boiling Water as Disinfection:
Boil the water for 5 minutes.  Once the water has cooled, it can be consumed, or stored in clean
containers to use later.

  • If you suspect that your well or water system has been contaminated, or if sampling indicates that bacterial contaminants are present, disinfection of your well is recommended.  Contact Northeast Colorado Health Department for instructions on proper well disinfection.


Wastewater Systems:

  •  If you are connected to an onsite wastewater treatment system (septic system), inspect your OWTS for damage

  • Damage to plastic piping above ground that may have been damaged by heat

  • Raised systems scorched or damaged by fire

  • Damage to piping where pipes enter the home/structure

  • Disturbance of the soil treatment area by large vehicles such as firefighting equipment

  • If your septic system is damaged, backing up, or malfunctioning, discontinue use and contact Northeast Colorado Health Department, Environmental Health Division, for guidance and instruction regarding repair and restoration of the system.

If you'd like more information about your well or septic system please contact our Environmental Health Manager:

Melvin Bustos
(970) 867-4918 x2262 
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