Scrap yard fire evacuees need to clean once they return

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- With the fire from a Northeast Portland scrap yard still smoldering several blocks away, hundreds of people in the Cully neighborhood returned to their homes Tuesday morning faced with having to clean up potentially toxic smoke and soot that may have gotten into their homes.

Nemo and Kathy Vaughan are following the advice of the Multnomah County Health Department by using dish soap to remove any airborne toxins that may have come to rest on dishes left out in her kitchen when she evacuated.

"We're just going to use some Dawn and wipe down all the counters and everything down and clean the dishes in the sink as well," Nemo told KOIN 6 News.

Earlier in the day Paul Lewis with the Multnomah County Health Department announced people who were forced to flee the fire could return home. But his big message was that the soot could be much more dangerous than smoke from a forest fire.

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"The stuff that was burning was a lot of plastic and rubber and other organic materials that are going to need some soap to make clean," Lewis said.

Mary Anne O'Leary and her husband were forced to evacuate when the fire came close to their home. 

"Even though our doors and windows are closed, when we walked in this morning it was stinging, a burnt plastic smell," she told KOIN 6 News Tuesday night. "We've been told because of all the contaminates what we have to do this year is rest the soil because we can't garden in it."

Her vehicles are also covered in ash, which she describes as sticky and oily.

"Even when you do soap and water on it, it's oily. It doesn't just rub away," she said. "The city just called and said don't touch it. So, how are you supposed to clean it?"

It's the same for her outside furniture, her air filter and other items.

Yondella Hall was also forced to evacuate. With the toxic smell still lingering, she isn't ready to return home.

"When will it be safe to be outside my home?" she wondered. "When will it be safe to open my windows? When will it be safe for my dog to be outside again?"

Mary Anne O'Leary ponders a longer term question.

"Have our property values dropped because of this contamination or stain on the neighborhood?"

Experts recommend:
•    Put on pants, long sleeves and gloves (such as household dishwashing gloves) before you begin cleaning. If you get any ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible.
•    Use a damp cloth to wipe ash from household surfaces. Visible pieces of ash are big enough to be kept out of the lungs by the body’s natural defenses in the nose and throat, but when it circulates in the air, it can irritate the skin, nose and throat, and can trigger an attack for people who have asthma(link is external). Wetting the area and wiping it up can help protect you.
•    Wipe off children’s toys.
•    Gently sweep ash from the floors and follow with a wet mop. Avoid vacuums without a HEPA filter, so you don’t put ash back into the air.
•    Wipe soot and smoke from walls, furniture and floors using a mild soap or detergent  and warm water.
•    Wash any fruits and vegetables with a mild soap from your garden before eating them.
•    Throw away any food left on countertops.
•    Wash the family pets.
•    Open doors and windows to ventilate remove soot and odor.
•    Take your vehicles to a local brushless car wash to avoid scratching the paint.
The Red Cross is handing out free cleaning supplies at their shelter -- 1415 SE 122nd Ave. The shelter includes animal services as well and will remain open as long as there is a need. About 130 people slept at the shelter on Monday night.

Those residents will need to be diligent to clean their house and belongings once they return.

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