By Mary O’KEEFE
Now that the smoke has cleared, it is time for Crescenta Valley residents to begin cleaning up from the dust and ash that seems to cover every inch of surface.
Owner operator of Paul’s Professional Window Washing, Paul Dutton said that the calls for his service are beginning to come in as people realize the toll the smoke has taken on their homes.
“The ash is acidic,” Dutton said, adding that he has taken several readings of his own pool water and found the PH balance to be “off the charts.”
The ash that residents can see is only a portion of the unhealthy particles that are floating through the air and landing on surfaces.
“There are microscopic particles in the air we don’t see. I tell people to put a wet towel at their front and back doors to stop the ash and small particles from entering their home,” he said.
Dutton uses a form of ionized water, an ultra clean soft water that can penetrate the ash residue. When his crew goes into the field to clean residents’ windows he also will clean off the roof. As the water trickled off one of the roofs he was cleaning on Wednesday, instead of a normal light gray color it was coal black, and thick – almost tar-like.
“This is what is covering everything,” he said.
Dutton makes certain the water is drained into filters or onto lawns and plants. “We want to keep it out of the storm drains,” he said.
That is an important point according to Dennis Erdman, general manager of the Crescenta Valley Water District.
The first response may be to hose everything off, but Erdman reminds residents that the area is still under rationing water restriction which restricts using the water hose to clean surfaces like driveways.
“We don’t want people to waste water,” he said, adding the California Environmental Protection Agency has a website that describes alternative cleaning techniques. “They include using a broom and dust pan to gently pick up the ash and to use vacuums with HEPA filters. Regular vacuums [without the filter] usually do not pick up the small particles.”
According to the California Environmental Protection Agency website, “Shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners do not filter out small particles, but rather blow such particles out the exhaust into the air where they can be breathed. The use of shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums is not recommended… Gentle dusting of indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by wet mopping is the best procedure in most cases. A damp cloth or wet mop may be all that is needed on lightly dusted areas.”
The site also advised for those who are doing the cleaning to wear gloves and a well fitting dust mask for added protection.
Erdman added that the ash on the ground is not a danger to the district’s well water.
“The Earth makes a very good filter. In terms of water table, the well water here is very deep and it has been filtered through thousands of feet,” he said.
The ash may have been most evident on vehicles as the fire progressed and left a sooty film across windows.
“It is important to get that ash off your car as soon as possible. It will eat the paint,” said mechanic Alex Salas, from Advance Auto in La Crescenta.
His advice is to not let the ash sit on the surface of a vehicle for long because of its acidic nature can destroy the paint.
“And change your car’s air filter now that the smoke is over. You only have to do it once; the filters work really well unless there are winds that bring more ash. If we see the ash again, wash your car and change the filter,” he said.
Changing air conditioning filters is also recommended in homes.
It is important to keep all the receipts from expenses due to evacuation or, in some cases, clean up because it is covered under some homeowners insurance.
Kim Mattersteig, a local resident and State Farm Insurance agent, was evacuated from her Briggs Terrace home during the Station fire.
“Keep every receipt for food, hotel, everything that has to do with your evacuation expenses,” she said.
Learning about the fire and what happens after is something that Sue Perry from the U.S. Geological Survey is now focused on. In an e-mail she has requested ash from the Station fire area.
“This kind of data is lost if it is not obtained very soon after the fire,” she wrote.
For information on where to send the sample, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on safe clean up after a fire, visit the California Environmental Protection Agency site at www.calepa.ca.gov.