Fire Response and Recovery
Wildfires can create widespread threats to public health and the environment. Air quality can be affected by smoke, ash, toxins, and dust. Soil and water quality can be affected by uncontrolled hazardous materials and debris.
It is critical that response and recovery efforts quickly address any potential hazards. This will reduce impacts to surrounding communities.
Air Quality Issues
Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of chemicals, gases, and fine particles. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from breathing fine particles.
Local officials may issue health warnings with specific instructions. Take steps to protect yourself and your family, such as avoiding smoky conditions and reducing outdoor work or exercise. Seek medical assistance if you have difficulty breathing or experience chest discomfort, wheezing, or shortness of breath. Even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms in smoky conditions.
- Protect yourself from wildfire smoke (video)
- Learn how to protect your lungs from wildfire smoke and the proper use of face masks (PDF)
- How to protect your family from the health effects of smoke
- Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials (PDF)
- Health Risks of Wildfires for Children - A Guide for Physicians (PDF)
- Current air quality conditions for California
Debris from burned buildings and homes contains toxic substances because of the many synthetic and other hazardous materials present. Older buildings may contain asbestos and lead. Homeowners may have gasoline, cleaning products, pesticides, and other chemicals stored in garages and sheds that may have burned in the fire. It is important not to expose yourself or your family to any of these materials.
Ash and Debris Information
- Guidance for conducting emergency debris, waste and hazardous material removal actions (PDF)
- Safe Cleanup of Fire Ash (PDF)
- Handling ash, debris, and other hazardous materials from burned structures (English, PDF) | (Spanish, PDF)
- Management options for expedited collection of hazardous wastes from burned areas (English, PDF) | (Spanish, PDF)
It is important to help minimize the release of asbestos into the environment following a fire. A number of local, state, and federal regulations, including National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), provide safe handling and proper disposal instructions for fire ash and debris containing asbestos. For specific NESHAPs requirements or other local air quality regulations, please contact your air district or the Air Resources Board (ARB).
- Guidance for asbestos in debris from burned homes and business from the South Coast AQMD
- Guidelines for wildfire-damaged structure demolition/renovation activities from the San Diego County APCD (PDF)
- Asbestos removal and demolition after State-declared emergencies (for Non-Delegated Air Districts) (PDF)
- Guidance for disposal of animal carcasses associated with fires (PDF)
- UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team information on care and management of fire-affected livestock and carcasses
Additional Fire Ash and Debris Information
- Cal EMA debris removal resources
- CalEMA Disaster Debris Management Concept of Operations (PDF)
- Specific guidance on debris management for local jurisdictions, counties, and private contractors is available from CalRecycle
- For more information about hazardous material removal, contact the DTSC Emergency Response Duty Officer at (916) 255-6504.
Local officials may issue a Boil Water Order when drinking water is contaminated or if a fire has damaged waste water and sewage treatment systems. If a "boil water" order is issued, residents should not use their tap water for drinking, washing dishes, washing hands or bathing, for cooking, or brushing teeth without first boiling the water. More information is available at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Drinking Water Program.
- Fire assistance and cleanup information from the State Water Resources Control Board and the Regional Boards.
Archived Wildfire Materials
- Assessment of Burn Debris - 2007 Wildfires San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, California (PDF, 20 MB)
- Addendum to the 2007 Assessment of Burn Debris (PDF)
- Application for Waiver of State Statutes – Ramona, San Diego County (PDF)
- Application for Waiver of State Statutes – Dulzura, San Diego County (PDF)
- Governor’s Executive Order S-13-07 for the 2007 Southern California wildfires
- Rebuild Your Life. For consumers seeking information about what they need to do to recover from a disaster. Visit http://www.rebuildyourlife.ca.gov/
- California Volunteers. Opportunities to assist in the relief efforts. Visit http://www.californiavolunteers.org/
- Insurance issues and claims from the California Department of Insurance. Call toll-free 1-800-927-HELP (4357) or visit www.insurance.ca.gov.
- California Contractor's State License Board. Verifies contractor licenses, investigates complaints, and provides information about hiring a licensed contractor. Contact CSLB Disaster Hotline M-F from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 1-800-962-1125, or 24-hour Automated Phone Response System 1-800-321 CSLB (2752). Licenses can also be checked online at www.cslb.ca.gov. Visit CSLB's Disaster Help Center at http://www.cslb.ca.gov/General-Information/disaster-information-center/disaster-information-overview.asp
- Franchise Tax Board. Guidance in obtaining tax relief for disaster casualty losses. Contact the Franchise Tax Board at 1-800-852-5711, (TTY/TDD) for hearing or speech impaired: 1-800-822-6268.