People who lost their homes or had property damaged in the wildfires are being warned to contact their local authorities before sifting through debris.
"I think everybody understands the desire to go back to your property in a tragedy like this and kind of search through and see if you can't find any of the keepsakes or mementos," said Lance Klug, with the California Department of Resource Recycling and Recovery. But, he said, people need to use caution because toxic substances may have burned.
"If you think of all the stuff that you have in your home, all the toxic substances and all the chemicals and when those are burned, they get more concentrated, they eventually settle in the ash," Klug said. "And then once you're sifting through that debris all that becomes airborne again, you breathe that in, you get it on your skin."
California's EPA says ash may contain substances that can cause cancer and people with asthma, the elderly, children and pregnant women should use extra caution. Pets should be kept out of the area.
Property owners should consult their local environmental health departments, which are ususally the lead agency on things like wildfire cleanups, he said.
If people still choose to go through their property, they should wear pants, gloves, long sleeves and an OSHA-certified breathing mask.
EPA and toxic substance officials are already being mobilized, Klug said, adding that agencies must get property owner approval before any cleanup work begins.