After a fire, your primary goal is to stay in a safe place and prevent you and your family from suffering any more harm. You should not enter your home until you have been given confirmation that it is safe to enter, and you should avoid handling any debris.
Handling debris after a fire can be unsafe, because the ash and debris may contain asbestos, mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, and/or carcinogens linked to cancer. Also, ash is irritating to your skin and lungs and can cause a rash or trigger respiratory issues, such as asthma. Nobody with a heart or lung condition should participate in handling debris and ash.
While it is your responsibility to have the debris removed from your property, most homeowners insurance policies pay for debris removal after a house fire. You should contact your insurance agent before handling any debris yourself.
How to Handle Fire Debris
If you find yourself having to handle any debris, it is important to take the following protective measures:
- Be aware of any electrical hazards you may encounter and stay clear of them.
- Wear protective clothing such as heavy duty leather or rubber gloves, close-toed sturdy shoes, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, a hat, and goggles to cover as much of your body as possible. After handling, rinse off and change into clean clothes as soon as possible.
- Wear a fitted mask. An N-95 or P-100 mask will be the most effective at keeping you from breathing in any ash particles that could irritate your nose, throat, and lungs. Cloth or paper masks will not filter out the fine particles of ash, dust, and asbestos.
- Wash off any ash that may get on your skin as soon as possible.
- Be cautious of any sharp objects that may be buried among the debris and ash.
- Avoid getting any ash or other harmful particles into the air by using a HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner. A standard shop vacuum or common vacuum cleaner could potentially create another hazard by blowing the ash into the air.
- Avoid releasing collected ash by scraping all debris and ash into plastic bags that can be sealed or tied tightly shut before disposing into a regular trash can.
You should be extra careful when handling hazardous materials such as cleaning products, paint, batteries, and fuel containers. These materials need to be handled and disposed of properly to avoid added health risks. If you are unsure of the best way to handle and dispose of it, you should contact your local authorities for guidance as to how to be safe.
A fire and water restoration team will have the proper gear and experience to safely handle the debris left after the fire. Before entering your home and handling any of the debris yourself, you should call your insurance agent and check that a fire restoration team is covered under your homeowner insurance policy. If you can afford a fire restoration team it is the safest option to clean up the debris left in your home