Tips for safe wildfire recovery, cleanup

Tips for safe wildfire recovery, cleanup

When it comes to recovering from a wildfire, the dangers don’t pass when the flames burn out.

Even after a wildfire, hot spots still pose a risk because they can erupt into flames without warning, along with lingering embers and damaged trees or homes, says Randy Eardley, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management.

So when officials give the all clear to return home after a wildfire, take caution as you begin the process of repairing, rebuilding or moving, he says.

FEMA offers the following tips:

Avoiding remaining dangers

Wildfires pose lingering threats after they pass, especially in forested areas, Eardley says. Be on the lookout for these top three dangers as you return home.

  • Hot spots: Flames can flare up without warning.
  • Damaged trees: Burnt trees and limbs pose a hazard, as they can collapse.
  • Weak spots: Flames burn through root systems, weakening the ground above. If you walk over a weak spot, it can collapse.

Returning home

Wait for the official all-clear before retuning home. Keep these tips in mind once you get there:

  • If you notice a color-coded sign from the building inspector warning you not to enter your home when you return, heed the notice. Contact the building inspector’s office for advice and instructions.
  • Recheck your home for smoke or small fires for several hours after returning.
  • If a wildfire erupted in your area, but you didn’t receive an evacuation order or if you were unable to t evacuate, check your roof and attic for embers, sparks or fires, and extinguish any spot fires.
  • Don’t try to open a safe or strong box — these can contain intense heat for several hours and the interior can burst into flames if opened before it cools.• Mark any ash pits you see around your home, and warn your family members to stay away from these pits. Also, if you have pets, keep them leashed to prevent them from being burned by hidden embers for several hours after returning.

Cleaning up

Ash and air quality typically remains an issue following a wildfire. Follow these tips:

  • Trash food exposed to smoke, soot or heat.
  • Water down debris to minimize dust and ash particles.
  • Don’t use leaf blowers to move ash or hose ash particles into city drains.
  • Only use vacuums with HEPA filters to clean up ash.
  • Avoid skin contact with ash. If contact does occur, wash the area immediately.
  • Wear dust masks, leather gloves and shoes with heavy soles.
  • Typically, you may place ash in trash bags for collection. Check with your local government for instructions.

Related: How to find the right company to remove debris


Depending on the extent of damage, some wildfire victims choose to move after the disaster, while others choose to rebuild. Regardless, make sure to take time to decide which option works best for you. Don’t feel pressured to make a decision right away, even if you’re displaced and living in a hotel. Make arrangements to find longer-term temporary housing if needed. Also, be on the lookout for door-to-door scammers.

Angie’s List member Carla Albers lost her Colorado Springs, Colo., home to a wildfire in 2012. The flames destroyed 346 homes, and through her recovery of the disaster, she learned the importance of taking time to make decisions, including decisions about whether to rebuild your home or move.

Read the Albers story of recovering from a wildfire.

“Our challenge revolved around the many decisions we had to make, not just the house, but in replacing every piece of furniture, every plate, every bathroom item,” Carla says. “We got to a point where we were exhausted by all the decisions.”

But before she could even start building, she spent months making insurance claims, finding temporary housing and creating home inventory lists. Ultimately, Albers chose to leave her lot behind and purchase a wider property vacated after the wildfire, which gave her family space to add a third garage bay for her camper. “Although I love our new home, I’d trade it in a heartbeat for our old home and old things,” she says.

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How to limit wildfire damage to your home

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Take preventive steps to mitigate damage to your home in case of a wildfire, like the one that destroyed this home. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Carla A. of Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Take preventive steps to mitigate damage to your home in case of a wildfire, like the one that destroyed this home. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Carla A. of Colorado Springs, Colo.)

A wildfire doesn’t spell certain doom for your home. Take preventative steps to help protect your property from the threat of a wildfire.

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