Health Officials Provide Guidance on Returning Home After Wildfires

News Release
News Release
March 4, 2024

The Texas Department of State Health Services is sharing health and safety guidance for people returning to their homes and businesses after the ongoing wildfires in the state. The fire danger is not over, so people from areas that have been evacuated should not return home until local authorities say it is safe.

Hazardous smoke and ash are two of the leading risks after a large fire. Smoke can remain in the air for days, and ash can contain toxic substances including asbestos, arsenic and lead. Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of breathing in smoke and ash and should not do any cleanup work.

Adults should wear an N-95 respirator that is fitted to their face to limit the amount of ash they breathe. People should also pay attention to any health effects they experience and get medical help if they need it.

DSHS provides this additional guidance for returning home and cleaning up:

  • Return to homes and businesses during daylight so you can more easily see and avoid hazards.
  • Use extreme caution when walking around areas affected by fire. Ash can hide areas with live coals and dangerous debris like broken glass, nails and exposed wires.
  • Minimize contact with ash by wearing gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect your skin and goggles to protect your eyes.
  • Wash off any ash that gets on your skin or in your eyes or mouth as soon as you can.
  • Assume downed power lines are live and avoid them.
  • Don’t enter an area or building where you smell gas, and don’t turn on the lights or strike a match. Leave the area and call 9-1-1.
  • Never run a generator inside your home or garage. Any fuel burning source should be as far from your home as possible – at least 20 feet away – to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Throw away food that may have spoiled, thawed or come into contact with ash. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Check with your water provider about the safety of your supply. Water from a damaged water system or well may need to be disinfected by boiling it for one minute or by stirring in 1/8 teaspoon of unscented bleach per gallon and letting it sit for 30 minutes.
  • Mental health is also a concern as people deal with the aftermath of a fire. People who need mental health support in the Panhandle can call the Texas Panhandle Centers at 806-359-6699. Those in agriculture can contact the AgriStress Helpline at 833-897-2474. Anyone can call or text 9-8-8 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

More guidance is available at

The Panhandle and South Plains continue to experience critical fire weather conditions, so be aware of your surroundings, monitor the weather reports for your area and follow the instructions of local officials.


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