Protect Yourself from Smoke After a Fire

In the wake of the recent devastating California wildfires, disaster recovery expert Sean Scott, author of The Red Guide to Recovery “ Resource Handbook for Disaster Survivors and Secrets of The Insurance Game, is offering up important and often overlooked safety tips for survivors.

Scott explained that during a wildfire, toxic chemicals, poisonous gases, heavy metals, and other toxins are generated by the materials, household products, and vegetation that burns. These contaminants fill the air, become part of the ash, and are extremely dangerous to your health if inhaled. Soot and ash can also pose a health risk if they come in contact with your skin, where they can be absorbed into your system.

If you need to enter an area affected by fire or smoke, consider the following safety tips shared by Scott:

1) Avoid breathing air contaminated by smoke odor and minimize your exposure to contaminated areas.

2) If you need to enter a smoke damaged structure, wear proper personal protective equipment, including a proper-fitting respirator with a P-100 HEPA filter designed to filter vapor or gasses (not a dust mask).

3) Persons with heart or lung disease should consult their physician before using a mask during post-fire cleanup.

4) Avoid handling or coming in direct skin contact with items or materials affected by smoke, soot, or ash. If you need to retrieve items damaged by smoke, wear coveralls, eye protection, gloves, proper foot wear, hardhat, etc.

5) Avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible. Do not use leaf blowers or take other actions that will put ash into the air.

6) Avoid using shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners. These do not filter out small particles but blow them out the exhaust into the air where they can be inhaled.

7) Do not allow children or pets to enter areas that have smoke odor, ash or soot. If children or pets get soot or ash on their skin or hair, wash immediately with mild soap and warm water.

8) If you anticipate that you will need to be inside a building or area affected by smoke, attempt to ventilate the area by opening windows or doors and minimize your exposure as much as possible.

9) Have an environmental testing laboratory test for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and particulates to determine what types and concentrations of toxins may be present. Contact Rarefied Air Environmental for more information at 619-888-4840 or visit

10) Do not eat or drink anything that has signs of heat or smoke damage. When in doubt, throw it out!

11) If you experience any adverse health symptoms from exposure to smoke or soot, seek medical attention immediately.

12) If you need to be in an enclosed space that has a smoke odor, try to have the air cleaned or filtered. This can be done by renting or purchasing an air scrubber with a HEPA filter designed to remove ultra-fine particulate matter.

Visit these two white papers for more free and vital information from Sean Scott about the toxicity of post-fire smoke:

For more information on wildfire recovery or to obtain an array of free wildfire recovery resources, visit:

Media: For more information on fire and restoration topics or to arrange interviews with Sean Scott, contact Paul Williams at 310-569-0023 or e-mail [email protected]

Paul Williams
[email protected]