Returning Home

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Use caution extreme caution when entering your community and your property.

Remember to watch animals closely upon your return and keep them under your direct control, follow any new or changing public health guidance.

 

Wildfire Smoke and Your Health

  • Poor air quality affects our health and well-being. This is especially true during forest fire season. Forest fire or wildfire smoke affects people differently, based on how long the person is exposed to smoke, their age, health and level of outside activity.
  • Air Quality can change quickly. The Chief Public Health Officer recommends that residents monitor the air quality in their community through the PurpleAir Live Map and adjust their activities accordingly, especially if you have higher risk for complications due to poor air quality.
  • You can find additional information on the health effects of smoke at:

Hazards

Even though an initial damage assessment has been completed, other hazards may be present when returning after a wildfire such as:

  • Slip, trip and fall hazards from unstable structures, damaged trees, collapsing roofs, open pits, or wet and slippery surfaces.)
  • Hot spots (which can still flare up)
  • Damaged or fallen power lines, poles, and downed wires
  • Ash pits (these are holes in the ground that are hidden by being filled with ash and may still have hot embers)
  • Contamination (e.g. toxins such as heavy metals, fire retardant, and other).
  • Sharp objects such as nails, metal, concrete, or wood debris.
  • Ash, soot, and demolition dust.
  • Damaged or leaking household hazardous materials such as kitchen and bathroom cleaning products, paint, batteries, and fuel containers. (Please see how to properly dispose of these items later in this document)
  • Small or poorly ventilated areas where carbon monoxide may be present from using pumps, generators, or pressure washers. (As a general rule – DO NOT ENTER TIGHT SPACES).
  • Damaged or leaking pesticides or herbicide containers like ant or weed killer.
  • Propane cylinders for heating or from a BBQ

Personal Protective Equipment

Take appropriate safety precautions and use appropriate PPE when entering and before cleaning a smoke impacted building based on the hazards identified.

General PPE requirements in post-fire environments that protect you from head to toe from cuts, scrapes, punctures, slips and other hazards typically include:

  • Respiratory Protection (type based on atmospheric testing)
  • Protective Outer Clothing (long sleeves and pants)
  • Certified steel-toed Boots
  • Gloves
  • Hard Hat
  • Safety Goggles/Glasses
  • Leather or rubber gloves, as well as sturdy work gloves for cleaning and removing damaged items
  • Hearing protection as required

Cleaning Your Home

Smoke can irritate the skin, nose, throat, lungs, and eyes and can cause coughing and wheezing. Lingering smoke and fire ash in your home and yard can temporarily worsen any personal respiratory issues.

  • Take appropriate safety precautions and use appropriate PPE when entering a smoke impacted building based on the hazards identified.
  • Use appropriate equipment for all clean-up activities, including:
    • A tool, such as a shovel, to dislodge or move any debris.
    • A first aid kit (including supplies to clean and cover any cut or wound before commencing clean-up).
  • If there is no air quality advisory or demolition taking place in the area, get the air circulating inside your house by using a fan and opening your windows.
  • Replace your furnace filter and/or air conditioner filter.
  • Use a humidifier to reduce ash in the air.
  • Consider having heating, ventilating and air conditioning units, and all ductwork professionally cleaned to remove soot, ash, and smoke residue. You can change filters when you first return home and then continue to replace them frequently.
  • Wash all interior surfaces with white vinegar, a mild detergent or appropriate cleaning solution and rinse thoroughly. (vinegar helps remove odor and residue from smoke damage - do not use bleach, which has a harmful interaction with fire retardants that may have been used in the area).
  • Wash ash or dry clean clothing, linens, and bedding.
  • Disinfect and deodorize upholstery and fabric window treatments with spray deodorizing products available at most supermarkets. Do not use odor-masking sprays as they only cover up the problem and do not fix it. You can also steam clean items including carpets, window coverings, upholstered furniture, and mattresses. Steam neutralizes the odor and carbon film left by forest fires.
  • Take electronic equipment outside and “blow out” the components with an air hose before using. Ash can cause static charges.
  • Remove excess water: If your home was damaged by water used to fight the fire, you will need to get rid of all excess water to prevent mould growth. Before starting any work, ensure proper PPE is worn appropriate to water contaminants, such as a mask and rubber gloves.
    • To help prevent mould growth, clean any water-damaged or water-stained surfaces using warm water and soap.
    • Dry all wet items as soon as possible.
    • Dry wet or waterlogged carpeting as quickly as possible and any underlay should be removed.
    • Steam clean carpets with a disinfectant.
    • Remove excess moisture from the air inside your home using a dehumidifier.
    • Let your insurance company and restoration contractor know as soon as possible if you find any visible mould growth or smell mould inside your home.

Food Safety

  • Check the fridge and freezer and ensure they are still operating.

  • If the freezer food shows no signs of defrosting, they should be safe to use.
  • Remove and discard any food in the fridge or freezer that has spoiled or looks/smells questionable.
  • Remove shelves, crispers and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent. Then, rinse with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Instructions on how to mix bleach can be found on the second page of this document
  • Wash the interior of the refrigerator and freezer, including the doors and gaskets, with hot water. Rinse with a sanitizing solution.
  •  Leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow free air circulation.
  • Close the doors and wait until the inside temperature of your fridge has reached 4ºC before refilling it with food.
  • Close your freezer and wait until your freezer is cold enough to freeze food before refilling it.
  • If fridge or freezer show signs of damage or have lost power over an extended period of time you will need to discard all contents.
  • For commercial settings: Environmental Health does not require an inspection before re-opening the business. Any questions or concerns related to Food Safety should be directed to Environmental_Health@gov.nt.ca.

Drinking Water Safety

  • Throughout the evacuation, essential staff remained in all affected communities and maintained the operation of Water Treatment Plants.
  • Drinking water samples were regularly tested, and the water remained safe throughout the period.
  • The Chief Environmental Health Officer is advising all residents returning from evacuation with water holding tanks for drinking water in the Hay River and surrounding area, K’atl’odeeche First Nation, and Fort Smith area should take the following measures to ensure safe drinking water:

    • Drain the water in the holding tank and request a refill of fresh treated water.

    • Flush all water lines with fresh water for 15 minutes.

    • There are no alternatives to replacing the water. Using filters, reverse osmosis, or boiling water are not acceptable alternatives to replacing the water in the holding tank.

  • If you have any concerns related to drinking water, contact Environmental_Health@gov.nt.ca.

Documenting Items

Documentation is key: Take photos of all damage prior to cleaning or throwing out. Document the time you spend working on all recovery activities, this information will be important for insurance or disaster assistance claims.

If you are not insured: check with non-profit organizations, your community government and the Government of the Northwest Territories to see what assistance may be available.

Be careful: if your documents are located in a safe, do not attempt to open it until the outside is cool to the touch.

Below is a list of potential missing documents and who to contact for replacement:

  • Animal registration papers - Community government offices
  • Bank Books - Band Branch
  • Birth certificates, Marriage certificates and Death certificates - Vital Statistics/GNWT Department of Health and Social Services
  • Bonds (completely destroyed) - Write to: Canada Savings Bonds - PO Box 2770, Station D Ottawa, ON K1P 1J7 - include names and addresses that appeared on bonds, approximate date when purchased, and denominations. Gather all pieces and ashes and keep them for further reference.
  • Bonds (partially destroyed) - Gather up remaining pieces and ashes, put them in a package and write a letter explaining what happened. Send to Canada Savings Bond address (above).
  • Children's Services and Social Assistances identification cards, medical assistances, or social assistance cheques - Your case worker
  • Immigration documents - Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada
  • Credit Cards - Issuing credit card company
  • Divorce papers - Supreme Court where decree was filed or divorce lawyer
  • Drivers licences and vehicle registration title cards - GNWT Department of Infrastructure
  • Income tax records - Revenue Canada
  • Insurance policies - Insurance agent
  • Land titles - GNWT Lands Titles Office
  • Medical records - Health center, family doctor or specialist 
  • Military discharge papers - Veteran Affairs Canada
  • Money (partially or completely destroyed) - Nearest Bank of Canada branch (check with your bank on locations)
  • Passports - Service Canada for Canadians/Your Consulate General for non-residents
  • Territorial Health Care Card - GNWT Department of Health and Social Services
  • Social Insurance Number (SIN) cards - Canada Pension Plan documents, Employment Insurance documents - Service Canada
  • Titles and deeds - Local municipal office
  • Wills - Family lawyer or estate lawyer

Disposal

Seek guidance from your community government on how and where to dispose of your materials, food and other items if required.

Throw out the following:

  • If your home was without power for an extended period of time all food in your refrigerator and freezer units should be disposed and your entire refrigerator and freezer units will require sanitization. If it is not possible to sanitize your refrigerator or freezer units, they may need to be disposed.
  • Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot. This includes foods like dry goods (i.e. flour, sugar, spices, etc.) even if the package isn’t open.
  • Even jarred foods, including home canned items, may not be safe as the heat from fire can compromise the safety seal.
  • Cleaning products, paint, batteries and damaged fuel containers may need to be disposed of properly to avoid risk.
  • Some medications may be affected by heat, smoke and soot. Check with your doctor or health centre to find out if it needs to be thrown out and where to dispose of unused medications that could cause harm to the environment.

Entering and Cleaning Your Yard

Before you begin

Remember to visually check the stability of the trees around your property. Look for damage on the tree trunk or for visible damage of burned tree roots. Any trees that have been damaged by fire may soon become another hazard. They will need to be cut down and removed. Stay away from damaged or fallen power lines and power poles. Wear appropriate PPE.

  • Wet down any remaining fire debris to minimize health impacts to you and your family from breathing soot and ash particles left by the aftermath of this fire. Do not wash the fire debris into the street.
  • Use a hose, sprayer or pressure washer on the exterior of your home, driveways, walkways, vehicles, patios, decks and outdoor furniture.
  • Rinse off air intakes and air conditioners. Be sure NOT to use air hoses or leaf blowers — you do not want to drive more debris or particles into your home. (Be careful when using pumps, pressure washers or generators in enclosed spaces due to carbon monoxide).
  • Attic insulation can retain smoke odours, and you may wish to consider replacing it.

Chemicals and Heavy Metals

Your yard and surrounding areas may be impacted by fire ash and soot. These materials contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and heavy metals. A fire restoration contractor will be able to provide clean-up services. Wear appropriate PPE.

  • Avoid direct contact with ash. If you get ash on your skin, in your eyes, or in your mouth, wash it off as soon as you can.
  • Wet down remaining fire debris.
  • Scrape up fire ash and soot remaining on your property as much as possible, place it in plastic bags or other containers that will prevent it from being disturbed.
  • Consider adding new, clean soil to gardens if the area was impacted.
  • For children’s play areas and equipment: clear away any debris and ensure water that may have been used in the fire is gone. If there is fire or structural damage to play equipment, consider blocking access to the area until play equipment is repaired or replaced. Use mild detergent and clean water to wash children’s outside toys, play equipment, and recreational equipment. If you suspect or know a sand box was impacted by fire or firefighting materials, the sand should be replaced.

Fire Retardants and Residue

If your home was sprayed or impacted by fire retardant, these products need to be removed from the outside siding and roof of your house, your vehicles, and any outside toys, furniture, tools etc. before you move back home. See below some common questions about wildland fire retardant in the NWT:

 

How will I know if retardant has been used on my property?

Long term retardant (LC95A) will appear red within the first 12 hours of application, but will fade to orange after 24 hours, and continue to fade with time. Short term retardant (WD881C) appears as a white foam on initial application and dissipates as the water evaporates from the foam.

 

How do I clean retardant?

Retardants can be cleaned from surfaces using water. Dried retardants may take a bit longer to remove as they rehydrate upon contact with water. If skin contact occurs, wash with soap and water.

 

Is retardant used by the Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) hazardous?

Long term retardant (LC95A) product used has a human health hazard rating of 0 (as per Section 16 of the Safety Data Sheet, in concentrate form/unmixed with water). Short term retardant has a health hazard rating of 2 (as per Section 16 of the Safety Data Sheet, in concentrate form/unmixed with water). If skin or eye contact occurs, irritation may occur. Rinse with plenty of water. Note: Retardants are NEVER applied in concentrate form.

 

For more information on the materials see the Safety Data Sheet information:

Long Term Retardant SDS: https://www.fs.usda.gov/rm/fire/wfcs/products/msds/retard/phoschek/SDS_PC_LC95A-R.pdf

Short Term Retardant SDS: https://www.perimeter-solutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/PHOS-CHEK-WD881-EN-OSHAWHMIS-GHS-SDS-2020-06-18.pdf