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Returning to Your Home after a Wildfire

Restore your home

​​​​​​​​​​After a wildfire, y​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​our 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.

What items will I need to throw out when I return home?

Food, medicines, cleaning products, cosmetics, and other personal care products can be damaged by heat, smoke, ash, and the chemicals used to fight the fire. You may need to properly dispose of these items after your fire-damaged home has been inspected. Find more information about how to handle these items below. You may also need to throw out items that are not listed on this page.

Before getting rid of any items, make sure that you put them in an inventory as part of your fire insurance claim.

How do I handle food that was in my home during the wildfire?

Throw away food stored in your refrigerator, cooler, or freezer if the temperature inside the appliance went above 4ºC at any time. If your appliance lost power at any time, the temperature may have gone above 4ºC when the power was off and then returned to​ 4ºC when the power came back on. Most fridges can keep food at 4ºC for about 4 hours without power.

Throw away raw vegetables or fruits that were not in your fridge.

Check the rest of the food in your home, including canned goods and dry goods like flour, sugar, and spices, and throw it out if it:

  • has spoiled, even if your fridge stayed at 4ºC at all times
  • was open
  • got damaged by fire or smoke, even if the package isn't open
  • was stored in containers with tiny holes (porous) like cardboard or foam containers
  • is in can that is bulging, rusted, or dented
  • was stored in a glass jar (the heat from the fire likely compromised the safety seal)

Clean and disinfect all canned foods before opening them to make sure you don’t contaminate the food.

Be safe when checking your food. If you are in doubt, throw it out.

How do I replace or clean my fridge and freezer?

Contact your insurance company to see if you need to replace your fridge or freezer and if you have coverage for this. Follow your local guidelines for what to do with your old fridge and freezer if you need to dispose of them.

Your fridge or freezer may have gone without power for some time and may smell. If you are keeping your fridge or freezer, clean, disinfect, and deodorize them once you have thrown out all of the unsafe or spoiled food. To do this:

  1. Unplug the fridge and freezer.
  2. Rinse or blow out (with an air hose) the coils and compressors on the fridge and freezer.
  3. To clean the inside of the appliance, use soap and water and then rinse with clean water.
  4. After cleaning, sanitize the inside with a bleach and water mixture. Mix 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) of household bleach for every 4 cups (1 L) of water.
  5. Leave the doors of the fridge and freezer open and let them dry out.
  6. Once the fridge and freezer are dry, reconnect the power.
  7. Wait until the inside temperature of your fridge has reached 4ºC before refilling it with food.
  8. Wait until your freezer is cold enough to freeze food before refilling it with food.

What should I do with medicines and personal care products that were left in my home?

​Contact your insurance company and take lots of photos before throwing anything out. Follow your local guidelines on where medicines and other chemicals can be dropped off for disposal.

Throw out medicines, cosmetics, and personal care products like soap, shampoo, and toothpaste that were exposed to smoke or high temperatures, even if the package isn’t opened.

Bring any medicines that need to be thrown out back to a pharmacy. Do not flush any medicines down the toilet or sink.

How do I clean up smoke damage, ash, and soot?

If you will be doing the cleaning, wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, gloves, and boots. Learn more about protecting yourself and your family when you return home after a wildfire​.

Follow your local guidelines to find out how to dispose of hazardous materials including ash.

Follow the tips below to clean smoke damage and soot from different parts of your home.

Outside of your home

Use a hose, sprayer, or pressure washer on the outside of your home, driveway, walkway, vehicle, patio, deck, and outdoor furniture. Rinse off your air intake vents and air conditioner carefully. Do not use air hoses or leaf blowers to clean exterior surfaces because you could blow more ash and soot into your house. Before rinsing the exterior of your home, contact your local municipality to make sure there are no water or sewage restrictions.

If you’re in a tight or poorly ventilated space, be careful when using pumps, pressure washers, or generators. Keep doors and windows open. You are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning if there isn’t enough air flow.

If you have a private septic system, check the area around your system for damage or sewage leaks. Contact a sewage disposal professional if you find damage to your septic system.

Air circulation

Get the air moving inside your house by using a fan and opening your windows. Only do this if there’s no smoke or air quality advisory for your area. Learn more about smoke and air quality advisories.

To help with clean air circulation in your home, you can also:

  • Replace your furnace filter. You may need to do this more often than usual due to construction and cleaning activities in your home or neighbourhood. Check your filter often.
  • Upgrade furnace filters to the highest efficiency your ventilation system can handle. They may help lower the levels of particles in the air in your home.
  • Have your ducts and air conditioning system cleaned by a professional.
  • Use a portable air cleaner, if you have one, with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove small particles. For air cleaners, follow all the manufacturer’s instructions for changing the filter, where to place the device, and the size of room it’s meant to be used in.
  • Don’t use ozone generators. They don’t act as “air cleaners” and may pose safety hazards.

Demolition activities are more likely to produce airborne ash. When these activities are happening:

  • Stay indoors.
  • Close all outer doors and windows.
  • Turn off the ventilation for air conditioners and furnaces as much as possible.

Inside of your home

  • Wash all surfaces inside your home with mild detergent or an appropriate cleaning solution and rinse thoroughly. Clean any place where there’s ash, dust, or the smell of fire. Wash the inside of closets, cupboards, and drawers.
  • Wash the inside of your windows thoroughly.
  • Use wet wiping or mopping. This is safer and better than dry or dust mopping, which can move ash and debris around your house. Change the water if it gets dirty.
  • Only vacuum with a unit that has a HEPA filter that can catch ash particles. Using unfiltered vacuums will just move the ash around your house. Change your HEPA filter often.
  • Wash and clean all ash-contaminated household items with mild detergent. Change the water often.
  • Try to clean as much ash and dust as possible. Ash that isn’t cleaned up is broken into smaller particles and becomes harder to remove from carpets and surfaces.
  • Attic insulation can keep smoke odours, so you may want to replace it.

Fabric, carpets, and clothing

  • Remove soot before you try to clean or deodorize carpets, curtains, and soft furniture like your couch. Soot is oily and can stain these items.
  • Steam clean carpets, drapes, curtains, and furniture. Change the water often.
  • Wash or dry clean all of your clothing and household linens that have been affected by the fire. You may have to run many rinse cycles to get out all the ash, soot, and smoke. Consider doing this laundry outside of your house. Use a machine tagged for heavy contaminants at a laundromat. These are usually marked as “oilers.”


Before using electronics after a wildfire, it is recommended that you take all electronic equipment outside and “blow out” the components with an air hose. Ash can cause static charges. Do not blow out components inside your home. Get any electronics checked by a qualified technician before using them again.

What should I do if my yard and outdoor play areas are impacted by fire ash and soot?

If you decide to clean your yard and surrounding areas yourself, wear the appropriate PPE including masks, gloves, and boots and follow these steps:

  • Wet down any fire debris. Do not wash the fire debris into the street.
  • Scrape up fire ash and soot from your property as much as possible. Place it in plastic bags or other containers that will keep it from being spread around and take it to a landfill. If your home or property was totally destroyed by fire, then the restoration company will look after this for you when they begin the demolition and recovery process.
  • For children’s play areas and equipment, clear away any debris and remove puddles and standing water.
  • If there is fire or structural damage to play equipment, block access to the area until the equipment is repaired or replaced.
  • Use mild detergent and clean water to wash children’s outside toys, play equipment, and sports equipment.
  • Sand, gravel, or other loose materials placed under playground equipment should be removed and replaced, especially if you can see ash, soot, and small debris.
  • If you suspect or know that a sandbox was impacted by fire or fire retardants (fire fighting materials), replace the sand.

How do I clean up my lawn, gardens, trees, and plants?

  • Rinse fire retardant off trees, shrubs, and plants if possible.
  • Soak up any puddles or standing water that has fire retardant materials with soil or sand.
  • Regularly wet down your garden and lawn until the smoke and ash have been diluted or reabsorbed into the air. Ash and soot on plants will continue to smell smoky for some time.
  • If you choose to fix or put in new lawns, you can re-sod or reseed grassy areas.
  • Consider adding new, clean soil to gardens if you suspect or know the area was damaged by the fire.
  • Don’t eat fruits and vegetables that were growing in your garden during the fire.
  • Compost from bins that were closed during the fire can be kept and added into your soil as usual. Do not use compost from bins that were open during the fire.

How do I clean up fire retardant?

For information about cleaning up chemicals used to put out fires (fire retardant), go to:

How do I deal with water damage?

​If your home was damaged by water, you will need to take steps to limit the potential for mould to grow. When cleaning water damage, wear the appropriate PPE including masks, gloves, and boots. To help stop mould from growing:

  • Check any water-damaged or water-stained surfaces and appliances. Clean the affected areas using warm water and soap first. Then disinfect the surfaces with a household bleach and water solution (1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) into 4 cups (1 L) of water). The sanitizer solution will help disinfect the water used for cleaning and kill any leftover mould that may have grown.
  • Dry all wet items as soon as possible.
  • Dry wet or waterlogged carpets as quickly as possible. Remove any underlay. Steam cleaning carpets with a disinfectant should be enough.
  • You may need to use a dehumidifier to help to remove extra moisture from the air inside your home.

Let your insurance company and restoration contractor know as soon as possible if you find any visible mould growth inside your home. If you’re a tenant, tell your landlord about any mould concerns and work with them to arrange for proper cleanup.

If you find a small amount of mould (typically under 10 square feet) and you wish to do the cleanup work yourself, see the steps for mould remediation in private homes (PDF).

​Where can I learn more?

​For more information on wildfire recovery, visit Environmental Public Health.

Current as of: May 18, 2023

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services