California Wildfires: What Building Owners Face in the Aftermath
Wildfires have raged across more than 3 million acres in California so far this year, leaving behind a wide path of destruction on land and skies as smoke billowed across the state and beyond, impacting air quality as far away as New York.
It’s an impact – and a growing threat – that has been documented by the National Weather Service and leaves property owners and managers having to assess for smoke damage to both the interior and exterior of their buildings, far from the flames.
What Smoke Leaves Behind
“Soot, char and ash are the typical constituents sampled on surfaces where there’s fire residue,” says Richard Wade, Ph.D., principal scientist at Omega Environmental Services. Smoke damage from wildfires can be determined from samples of the residual dust, Wade said. Omega also tests for other constituents such as asbestos and hazardous metal particulates which could be aerosolized and deposited in buildings.
To minimize smoke damage during a fire event, it’s best to close all windows and set the HVAC to 100% recycle mode to prevent the intake of outside air.
Assessing Wildfire Smoke Damage
Visual inspection and lab testing of multiple fire residue surface samples from both the interior and exterior of affected buildings are the only way to determine the extent of contamination from wildfire smoke. A variety of methods are used to collect fire particulate samples, including bulk sampling, tape-lift sampling, and micro-vac. The visual evaluation and sampling will also include the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.
It is also important to measure pH levels in particulate to assess the corrosivity of fire residue, which can cause damage to a building’s contents as well.
While visual inspection and sampling are key to any effective evaluation of wildfire contamination, other details, including site history and the occupant activity, are taken into consideration to determine if other factors, like tobacco smoking, use of candles, or wood fires, have contributed to smoke damage.
How Omega Can Help
At Omega Environmental, we have decades of experience providing environmental assessments, remediation and decontamination, and expertise in the safe removal and management of environmental hazards in a wide variety of commercial and government settings, including assessment and remediation of wildfire smoke damage.
We partner with property managers, construction and engineering firms, and state, local and federal environmental officials to ensure safety and compliance. Contact us to learn more about how we can help your project move forward safely, cost-effectively and on schedule.
Learn more about the threat that wildfire smoke poses to human health and property in our white paper, Where There’s Smoke: Assessing the Health and Property Damage Risks of Wildfire Smoke, drawn from the reporting, research and wildfire studies conducted by our principal scientist Dr. Wade, a longtime researcher in academic and government regulatory roles, as well as the former Deputy Chief for Occupational Health at the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA).