After a wildfire, your home may be affected by smoke, soot and ash, chemicals, structural damage, and water damage. This information is a collection of health and safety items to think about as you return to your home. It covers many general topics. Not all of the information may apply to your situation.
Do not go back into any areas that were heavily damaged or destroyed by wildfire until the local authorities allow you to return.
Once you are able to enter burned-out areas safely, be very careful. Take basic precautions and be aware of hazards to your health and safety.
If you or your family are injured by fire debris, get help. If this is an emergency, call 911. For health advice and information, call your doctor or call Health Link at 811 to talk to a registered nurse any time, day or night.
Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks to protect your lungs when you return to your home after a wildfire. If you have asthma or a lung condition, you should wear equipment to protect your lungs and only spend short periods of time in these areas.
To protect your breathing, use N95 rated masks to help filter out and lower the amount of particles, such as ash and soot, that you breathe in. A mask rated N95, when properly fitted (see section below), will work better than a dust mask or surgical mask to block particles from ash.
Always read and follow the manufacturer's directions when using a mask. If your mask doesn't have a snug fit, it won't work properly. See Alberta Health Services step-by-step instructions for putting on and taking off an N95 mask (PDF) to learn more.
Depending on the area and the type of work you are doing, you may need to use protective clothing, gloves, boots, eye protection, head protection, and hearing protection.
Return to your property only once your local authorities have said it’s safe to do so. You may not have water, natural gas, or electricity services when you return.
When entering your yard:
If you or anyone in your family has breathing problems or asthma, take steps to protect yourself. Smoke and fire ash that stays around your home and yard can make your breathing issues worse. Call Health Link at 811 or talk with your doctor for any medicine or extra precautions you may need to take at this time.
Do not enter your home if you notice or suspect any source of heat or smoke. Call 911.
Check for any visible structural damage to your home that was caused by the fire.
Do not enter your home if there's any danger of a structural failure or collapse. Things you may notice:
Fire retardant helps to slow down the fire. It contains ammonia which can:
Soot and ash can irritate your eyes and skin or cause breathing problems. These symptoms may be worse depending on the type of soot or ash, how long you’re exposed, and if you already have a lung condition.
Smoke can irritate the skin, nose, throat, lungs, and eyes. It can also cause coughing and wheezing. Learn more about the health effects from wildfire smoke.
If you have irritated eyes and skin, flush them thoroughly with water. You can use a gentle soap solution on your skin if you had contact with fire retardant, soot, ash, or smoke.
If you are insured:
Help may also be available through provincial or municipal emergency social services or local private service organizations such as:
Visit your local reception or information centres to find out more.
Work with and through your insurance company as much as you can. They’ll have contractors who they approve and work with. Contractors must meet
applicable safety codes standards.
Current as of: September 22, 2022
Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.