Retardant and Post Fire Cleanup
Fire retardant is an effective firefighting tool used to suppress and prevent the spread of wildland fires. It can also be difficult to clean up after a fire.
Retardant was used extensively in battling both the Sockeye Fire in Willow and the Card Street Fire on the Kenai Peninsula. In both cases, homes, vehicles and other structures were affected by falling retardant as firefighters worked to protect homes threatened by the fires.
Long-term retardants like those used in Alaska are about 85 percent water, 10 percent fertilizer and 5 percent coloring, usually iron oxide. The retardant is dyed to make it more visible.
Here are some helpful tips regarding the clean up of retardant, smoke residue, ash and soot from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service.
· Do NOT use chlorine or bleach to help with the removal of retardants. Chlorine combines with ammonia to form chlorine gas, which is toxic to humans and animals.
· Remove any retardant using a brush, water and detergent as quickly as possible.
· While retardant can typically be removed using water, a power washer may be required if the retardant has dried.
· The iron oxide coloring used in retardant to make it more visible from the air can penetrate some materials and be difficult to remove if dried, retardant may require the use of a power washer.
· Because retardants are made up mostly of water, they will eventually evaporate. However, the remaining materials can cause eye irritation and cuts, scratches, or chapped skin to sting.
· Although modern retardants are not considered toxic, it is a good idea to avoid making puddles when cleaning it so that pets and wildlife do not ingest it.
· Pets should be shampooed to remove any retardant that is on them.
· Landscape plants covered with retardant should be washed as soon as possible to prevent foliage from being burned.
Soot, ash and smoke
· Soot, and ash can cause minor irritation to eyes and skin and have harmful effects on individuals who are sensitive to debris or have respiratory illnesses or asthma. Individuals with respiratory issues should avoid cleaning up soot and ash.
· Wet down debris to minimize breathing in particles.
· When returning to a home that has survived a wildfire, begin the cleaning process by sweeping ash off the roof. Clean the gutters by using a shop vacuum or sweeping them out by hand.
· Sweep off the house exterior walls and windows, especially ledges where soot could have built up. Wash the exterior walls with a hose or power washer. Clean the windows with a window cleaner.
· Water the lawn lightly with a garden hose for a week to get the soot and ash to recede into the ground.
· Wash all interior walls and hard surfaces with a steam cleaner, including the inside of cabinets, drawers and closets. Steam the undesides of furniture, tables and chairs.
· Wash or dry clean clothing, linens and bedding.
· Have heating, ventilating and air-conditioning units and all ductwork professionally cleaned to remove soot, ash and smoke residue. Change filters immediately upon your return and at least once a month for the first year.
· Ash and soot on the ground and in your landscaping will continue to generate smoke odors and airborne particles when the wind blows, so water it down regularly. Until the ash and soot are diluted and absorbed into the environment, run an indoor mechanical air filtration system to help minimize the uncomfortable and potentially health-threatening impact of those pollutants.
· Dispose of any fresh food that shows signs of damage from heat or fire, including ash or smoke.
· If food such as grains or flour is caked, doesn't flow freely, or is contaminated with ash, water or chemicals it should be discarded.
· Any home-canned food that has been exposed to the heat of fire should be discarded. High temperatures can cause jar lids of home-canned food to come unsealed, allowing bacteria to get into the food. The jar lid may seal again when the temperature drops, causing an unsafe jar to appear safe. The jars may be reused but the food should be thrown out.
· If a wildland fire caused evacuation of your home and power was not available to keep refrigerators and freezers running, check food immediately to make sure it is not spoiled. Discard any food if the refrigerator temperature reached 40 degrees or higher.
· Toxic fumes can be released from burning materials and contaminate food. Throw away food stored in permeable or semi-permeable packaging such as cardboard and plastic wrap.