Potential Hazards in a Wildfire Area

Potential Hazards in a Wildfire Area

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Wildfire Area


This information is meant to identify the primary hazards associated with entry into the Wildfire Area. If a task includes an inherently hazardous activity such as the use of a chain saw to cut down dead trees or removal of burnt home debris from a foundation, then the hazards associated with that activity take precedence and will require more preventive measures.

Toxic Hazards

Ash or Dust

Wildfires deposit large amounts of ash on outdoor surfaces in nearby areas, which may cause irritation of the skin, nose, and throat. Ash and dust (particularly from burned buildings) may contain toxic and cancer‐causing chemicals, including asbestos, arsenic, and lead.

Since there is no meaningful, immediate air monitoring available within the Wildfire Area that can definitively depict the effects of exposure to burn debris or ash, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Boulder County Public Health have recommended that all workers, residents and visitors proceed with caution. Workers should avoid the burn area on windy days when dust levels are high to avoid the dust. Anyone with underlying respiratory health conditions should avoid the fire area until the natural plant cover returns reducing dust levels.

Supervisors considering the use of respirators need to consider the steps employees must take to implement a respiratory protection program (fit testing, training and medical qualification). If asked, Public Health will provide a list of local companies who can provide the required fit testing, training and medical qualification necessary when employees use respirators.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention

When power has been out, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling, or cooking can cause carbon monoxide to build up in a home, garage, or camper. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled. Every year, more than 400 people die in the U. S. from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Never use generators, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, or camper—or even outside near an open window.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
  • Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine outside an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked inside an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
    If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.
  • Ensure that your home has at least one working carbon monoxide detector. Check the detector’s batteries twice annually; at the same time smoke detector batteries are checked.

Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. People who are exposed to high carbon monoxide levels while sleeping or after drinking alcohol can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever having symptoms. If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, consult a health care professional right away.

Learn more about how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Physical Hazards

Debris: Broken glass, exposed electrical wires (whether they are “live” or not), nails, wood, metal, plastics, and other solid objects commonly found in areas of fire damage can cause puncture wounds, cuts, and electrical injuries.

  • Avoid unstable building structures, if present, including flooring, stairways, railings, balconies, roofing, and fire escapes until the building department has cleared these structures for safety.
  • Open doors and entryways to storage areas carefully, as stored materials may have moved into unstable positions and could fall.

Trees: Avoid burned or damaged trees, as they may be unstable and can fall.

Roadways, Sidewalks, and Bridges: Use caution, as these and other outdoor structures may be damaged or unstable.

Learn more about safely cleaning up debris.

Water: Since water may not be available in the fire area, always carry a sufficient amount of water with you to properly hydrate yourself. Water is also used to suppress dust during some activities, so make sure you bring water with you if your work activity requires the use of water to suppress dust.

Electricity: Electrical hazards need to be repaired as soon as possible. Always avoid down or damaged electrical lines. After the fire, electrical power companies address downed or damaged power lines; however, if you see a downed power line, call 911, Xcel Energy at 1‐800‐895‐1999, or IREA (Inter Mountain Rural Electric Association) at 1-800-332-9540.

Propane: If you smell gas or think you’ve located a leaking propane tank, call 911. Because of the fire, propane providers were asked to inspect all of their tanks and remove unsafe units. If you find an abandoned tank that looks damaged but isn’t leaking, contact Fred’s Propane Service at 303‐444‐1787 or one of the propane providers in the burn area to help identify who is responsible for that unit.

Traffic & Construction

Alterations in automobile traffic (e.g. rerouted or slowed) may occur as a result of cleanup or restoration operations and may result in heavier‐than‐normal traffic. Be aware of your surroundings and the presence of large construction vehicles.

Preventive Measures

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Recommended baseline personal protective equipment for workers in the Wildfire Area are hard hats, safety glasses, leather gloves, reflective vests, and safety shoes. If performing dust‐creating operations like shoveling soil, or the wind creates dust, at minimum add a P 100 single use particulate respirator to your PPE.

Work in Pairs: Review situations where employees are expected to work alone for extended periods of time in the burn area. Consider implementing a two‐person rule with routine radio or phone check‐ins with supervision.

Personal Hygiene: Entering the burn area may result in the soiling of your clothes and skin with ash. Remove exposed clothing and wash separately, and take a bath or shower as soon as possible.

Tetanus: There is risk of injury once cleanup efforts begin after a fire. Tetanus is a concern because of open and closed wounds, so a tetanus vaccination is recommended for anyone returning to the burn area that does not have a documented dose within the past ten years. Prompt first aid management for wounds and prevention of infection is another important consideration. If you receive a puncture wound or a wound becomes contaminated with feces, soil, or saliva, have a doctor determine if a tetanus booster is necessary based on the individual’s records.

Learn more about tetanus and wildfire.

Avoid Wild or Stray Animals: If bitten by any animal, seek immediate medical attention. Wound cleansing is especially important in rabies prevention. Animal studies have shown that thorough wound cleansing alone without other post‐exposure prophylaxis can markedly reduce the likelihood of rabies.

If you are bitten by a snake, try to identify it, so if it is poisonous, you can be given the correct anti‐venom. Do not cut your wound or attempt to suck the venom out. Seek immediate medical attention.

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