Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (PHD) advise area residents to exercise caution during the post-fire cleanup.
Residents with heart problems, lung problems, or asthma should not make efforts to clean away ash, and should contact a healthcare provider if they experience coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, nausea, fatigue, or light-headedness.
Those with heart problems, lung problems, or asthma are also instructed to limit the amount of time they spend outdoors, as ash can cause health problems when it enters the lungs. Public Health warns that masks are sometimes insufficient protection against ash particles, and should be approved by a healthcare specialist.
Officials also advise residents to avoid using leaf blowers, and to discourage landscapers from using leaf blowers, as they displace and disturb potentially hazardous amounts of ash. A safer and more effective way to clean ash away would be to use a high-quality industrial vacuum with a particulate filter and a disposable collection bag. Vacuums of this sort effectively reduce the possibility of ash being reintroduced into the air.
An alternative cleanup method would involve gently sweeping hard surfaces or using a wet mop to clean floors. Public Health also recommends bathing pets, cleaning outside play equipment, taking cars to the car wash, and avoiding particularly ash-filled areas.
Officials also advise residents to be wary of asbestos fibers, which are released when certain building materials come in contact with fire. Buildings constructed more than 20 years ago are more likely to contain materials that will emit asbestos fibers when burned.
Tom Murphy, APCD’s division manager, reminds residents that ash affects much of the county and is not limited to the foothills.
“There was ash dumped all over the southern coast of Santa Barbara, so there are lots of people who weren’t directly affected by the fires that are going to have to clean up ash,” said Murphy. “As the fire burned, the plumes of smoke moved depending on the wind direction, so there was ash all the way from Goleta to Carpinteria. The distance [you are from the fire] really isn’t a factor; but if you are cleaning up ash, you should be careful to take an approach that minimizes the disruption and the re-entrainment of that ash back in to the air.”