Inspection Prior to Re-occupancy

Once the threat of fire has passed, local authorities will open fire-impacted areas for property access. Inspect the property and exterior of structures to ensure that there are no active fires, smoke, or hidden embers. Pay particular attention to attics, roofs, and outbuildings. If you see fire or smoke, immediately contact local authorities. Also, inspect the property for heavily damaged trees. Trees or damaged limbs may fall onto people or structures. If you have questions about the safety of a tree, contact a local arborist or tree-removal firm. 
Inspect the exterior electrical power lines leading to the structure. If power lines appear damaged, contact your local electrical utility provider. Check for the smell of natural gas or propane. If you smell gas, leave the door open and exit the structure. Do not go inside a structure that has a gas odor. Turn off the gas supply if it is located outside, and contact your utility provider. 
Prior to entering any structure, the exterior should be inspected for structural fire damage. Fire damaged may compromise the structural integrity of roofs, walls, and foundations. Visible movement or sagging of the structure suggests serious damage. Evaluation by a qualified engineer or building official may be warranted prior to entry. 

Do not enter the structure without respiratory protection if strong or irritant smoke odor is noticeable. The minimum recommended respiratory protection is a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) certified N-95 filtering face piece (dust mask), or a half-face air purifying respirator with combination particulate and organic vapor cartridges, if volatile organic vapors are present or suspected. The risk of adverse health effects from inhaling smoke particulates or vapors depends on the concentration of airborne chemicals and duration of exposure.  Sensitive individuals will be at a higher risk of experiencing adverse health effects. 

Individuals that are considered part of sensitive populations are generally those in the following groups:

  • Infants and young children, due to under-developed respiratory systems and immune systems

  • Children (though while generally considered healthy, they have increased time outdoors and increased activity levels, i.e., faster breathing rate)  

  • Individuals with chronic or preexisting respiratory medical conditions including, but it is not limited to asthma, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD), emphysema or chronic bronchitis 

  • Individuals with other cardio-vascular or other vascular conditions including, but not limited to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, or cerebrovascular conditions, such as atherosclerosis 

  • Pregnant women 

  • The elderly 

  • Those with immunocompromised conditions 

  • Other individuals with infections at the time of exposure 

  • Smokers and former smokers 

There are buildings and settings where sensitive populations are present that should have special consideration if impacted by wildfire smoke. These include, but are not limited to: 

  • Daycare centers

  • Hospitals

  • Schools

  • Nursing homes and assisted living units

  • Senior centers

  • Shelters

Useful resources on wildfire smoke, including a discussion of the use of respirators, is found at: