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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
Demolition activities are more likely to produce airborne ash. When these activities are happening:
Inside of your home
Fabric, carpets, and clothing
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.
If you decide to clean your yard and surrounding areas yourself,
wear the appropriate PPE including masks, gloves, and boots and follow these steps:
For information about cleaning up chemicals used to put out fires (fire retardant), go to:
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:
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).
For more information on wildfire recovery, visit Environmental Public Health.
Current as of: May 18, 2023
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.