In the past few weeks, Corvallis felt significant impacts from nearby fires, with the air quality index reaching well over 400. The City of Corvallis provided a number of tips for cleaning up ash from homes, gardens and yards following Oregon’s historic wildfire event.
Because inhaling ash is harmful, the city recommends wearing an N-95 or P-100 mask during cleanup, along with long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and gloves. Indoors, using vacuums with HEPA filters can effectively collect ash; however, households with non-HEPA filter vacuums should instead sweep ash into a dustpan and mop surfaces clean.
Outdoors, refrain from using a leaf blower – it blows ash back into the air. The city also recommends avoiding washing ash into storm drains because it can contaminate the local urban stream system.
Small amounts of ash on plants or vegetable gardens is not harmful, and can be washed off with a hose. Brooke Edmunds, associate professor and Extension community horticulturist in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences, said ash and smoke are unlikely to penetrate fruits and vegetables. But Edmunds said it is important to pay attention to how much ash collected on your produce and plants in order to make a determination.
“Use your best judgment,” Edmunds said in an OSU press release. “If your garden has a heavy layer of ash or is located near a structure that burned, the risk is higher. Burning buildings contain different toxins than a forest.”