Returning to Your Home After a Fire

Oct 24, 2017

A Guide to Safely Re-Entering Your Property  

En español  

The City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma are providing information to help you safely return to your property. We understand that this will be an emotional experience and want you to know that you are not alone—there are many people and agencies here to help you navigate the administrative, environmental, emotional, and health-related challenges of entering an area that has been damaged by fire. Please familiarize yourself with the information in this packet. It contains important details about the hazards of entering an area that has been in a fire and instructions to ensure your safety.

A fire in a home can cause serious damage. The building and many of the things in your home may have been badly damaged by flames, heat, smoke and water.

You may find things that the fire did not burn up but are now ruined by smoke and soggy with water used to put out the flames. Anything that you want to save or reuse will need to be carefully cleaned.

The firefighters may have cut holes in the walls of the building to look for hidden flames. They may have cut holes in the roof to let out the heat and smoke. Cleanup will take time and patience.

Food facilities need to seek Environmental Health Services prior to reopening your facility. Contact Environmental Health at (707) 565-6565.

Use Caution!

  • Wear sturdy shoes (steel toes and shanks are recommended) and clothing
  • Hazardous chemicals and conditions may be present
  • Inspect propane tanks for visible damage before turning on
  • Wear protective gear when sorting through possessions. Anything in contact with ash should be sanitized and cleaned. Sorting through/cleaning burn debris is not recommended.
  • Be aware of slip, trip, fall and puncture hazards.

It is important to understand the risk to your safety and health even after the fire is out. The soot and dirty water left behind may contain things that could make you sick.

Be very careful if you touch any fire-damaged items. Ask the advice of the fire department, local building officials, your insurance agent, and restoration specialists before starting to clean or make repairs.

Do not eat, drink, or breathe in anything that has been near the flames, smoke soot, or water used to put the fire out.


Fire ash may be irritating to the skin, nose and throat may cause coughing and/or nose bleeds. Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into lungs and may aggravate asthma and may make it difficult to breathe.

  • Refrain from cleaning ash and fire debris until professional hazardous material cleanup services are secured.
  • When exposure to dust or ash cannot be avoided, use a well-fitted NIOSH-certified air-purifying respirator N-95 mask.
  • Children should not be in the vicinity while cleanup is in progress. Even if care is exercised, it is easy to stir up ash that may contain hazardous substances. In addition, the exploratory behavior of children may result in direct contact with contaminated materials.
  • Clean ash off house pets and other domesticated animals if they have been in contaminated areas. It is best to not allow pets in these areas due to the potential risk to their health and their ability to spread outside of contaminated areas.
  • Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants to avoid skin contact. Goggles are recommended. Contact with wet ash may cause chemical burns or irritation on skin. Change your shoes and clothing prior to leaving the decontamination site, to avoid tracking ash into your car, home, etc.

Water and Handwashing

For the latest Boil Water and Do Not Drink notices: 
See Health Concerns: Water Supply

Keeping hands clean during an emergency helps prevent the spread of germs. If your tap water is not safe to use, wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected. Follow these steps to make sure you wash your hands properly:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together (20 seconds) to make a lather and scrub them well.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

* A temporary hand washing station can be created by using a large water jug that contains clean water.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Returning to Inhabit your Home or Business

Please use caution and follow guidance provided about in addition to the following:

Food Safety

Foods exposed to chemicals, heat or fumes from a fire can be compromised!

Reheating food that has become contaminated will not make it safe!
When in doubt, throw it out!

See Health Concerns - Food Safety for more information

Cleaning and Sanitizing

Cleaning and sanitizing your household after an emergency is important to help prevent the spread of illness and disease. Clean and sanitize surfaces in a four-step process:

  1. Wash with soap and hot, clean water.
  2. Rinse with clean water.
  3. Sanitize by immersing for 1 minute in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/240 ml) unscented household chlorine bleach in 5 gallons of clean water.
  4. Allow to air dry.

Please remember these safety tips when cleaning:

  • Never mix bleach with ammonia or any other cleaner.
  • Wear rubber or other non-porous boots, gloves, and eye protection.
  • Avoid breathing fumes: If using products indoors, open windows and doors to allow fresh air to enter.

Smoke and Water Damage

Seek professional damage and restoration services.

Debris Removal

Please refer to our Debris Removal information.