Returning Home

Health and Safety Precautions for Re-entry and Debris Removal After Fire

If you visit your property to collect belongings and mementos, please familiarize yourself with the information below. It contains important details about the hazards of entering a fire-impacted area.  Hazard Advisory

Debris & Hazardous Waste

Fire damage can create significant health and safety hazards that may be present at individual properties. It is recommended that structure ash is not disturbed due to potential exposure to toxic materials. If you choose to visit your property, please consider the following:

  • Wear sturdy shoes (steel toes and shanks are recommended) and clothing
  • Hazardous chemicals and conditions may be present
  • Inspect propane tanks for visible damage before turning on
  • Cover all clothing when in proximity to ash. Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants to avoid skin contact, whenever possible. Goggles should be worn. Contact with wet ash may cause chemical burns or irritation on skin. Change your shoes and clothing prior to leaving the decontamination site, to avoid tracking ash into your car, home, etc.
  • Anything in contact with ash should be cleaned and sanitized. Sorting through/cleaning fire debris is not recommended
  • Be aware of slip, trip, fall, puncture and overhead hazards.
  • Do not use leaf blowers or do any activities that will put ash into the air.
  • Wear a close-fitting respirator mask that is rated N-95 or P-100 to block particles from ash or smoke from being inhaled. N-95 respirators are well-fitted when they do not come into contact with facial hair; strap tension is adequate, not overly tightened; and masks fit across the nose bridge. A tight seal would not be possible for most children, even with a small adult-size model. People with heart or lung disease should consult their physician before using a respirator.
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the only agency that certifies respirators to determine that they adequately protect people. Look for NIOSH approval on the package or label.
  • The county is working with state and federal partners for options to assess all properties for household hazardous waste, asbestos and potential removal of those materials from each property. Household hazardous waste, asbestos and structural ash removal options are under development and will be announced to the public soon.

Food Safety

  • Perishable food items that have not been properly stored (at or below 41 °F) for more than four hours is not considered safe and must be thrown out.
  • If your home has been damaged and you find non-perishable food items we recommend that you DO NOT  use them. The containers may appear to be intact but high temperatures may have caused the seams to fail, resulting in the contents being exposed to potential contamination.
  • When In Doubt, Throw It Out!!

Water Safety

  • Upon return of water service for customers in the Colfax area, if the water looks cloudy or dirty, do not drink it. Let the hot and cold-water lines run until the water appears clear. If you are experiencing water pressure issues, please contact Placer County Water Agency’s customer service at (530) 823-4850. 
  • If you have a private domestic well and it has been damaged, it may have been exposed to potential contamination and can contaminate surrounding groundwater if not repaired properly. Fire can damage the well casing, electrical conduits and piping. DO NOT use the water for consumption which includes drinking, cooking, dishwashing, oral hygiene, hand washing, bathing and pets. If your well appears damaged it will likely need to be repaired by a qualified professional and properly disinfected. Please contact Placer County Environmental Health to discuss your well along with potential disinfection and testing requirements. You can contact Placer County Environmental Health at (530) 745-2300 or at [email protected].
  • PCWA has set up a temporary water filling station for customers affected by the River Fire and in need of water for cleaning and drinking purposes. This water filling station will be attached to a fire hydrant located near the Colfax High School soccer field off of Ben Taylor Road. If you have any questions, please contact customer services at (530) 823-4850.

Septic Systems

Fire could have damaged your septic system. The damage could have occurred to the piping between the house and the septic tank, from the septic tank to the leach field or to the septic tank lids. Damage sometimes occurs from heavy equipment such as backhoes and bulldozers used to fight the fire or to clean up debris. The repairs to the system must be done by qualified professionals as per Placer County Environmental Health Division requirements. If your septic tank was damaged, please contact Placer County Environmental Health at (530) 745-2300 or at [email protected].

Tree Damage

Many trees have been identified as hazardous due to the fire and will be removed in the coming days. These trees may be on your property or near your property.

Electrical Hazards

  • Be alert: If you see downed power lines near your home, treat them as if they are "live" or energized. Never touch them, stay away and keep others away. Report them to 911 and then call PG&E at 1-800-743-5000. Slowdown in areas where road construction or tree work is taking place.
  • Check for damaged wiring: Turn off power at the main switch and consult with an electrician if you suspect any damage.
  • Report unsafe conditions: If you smell a “rotten egg” odor in an area PG&E serves gas, see downed power lines or suspect another emergency, leave the area immediately and call911. Then, call PG&E at 1-800-743-5000.
  • Call before you dig: Be sure to call 811 at least two business days before you or a contractor start any digging project for a rebuild. PG&E will come out and mark any underground lines for free.
  • Generator installation: Make sure any permanent standby electric generator is installed by a licensed electrician. Improperly installed generators can pose a significant safety hazard. If using a portable generator to plug in appliances, make sure it is outdoors in a well-ventilated area.

 Once fire officials deem that it is safe for PG&E to work in affected areas, the main steps of the assessment and restoration process are:


  • Once crews have been given safe access to enter an area by CalFIRE, PG&E crews begin the electric assess, repair and restoration process.
  • Once safe, the first step is damage assessment, which may take 24 to 48 hours to complete depending on accessibility and terrain.
  • PG&E workers will be on site to make the area safe by isolating electrical hazards. The next steps are equipment repairs and coordinated restoration
  • Based on needed repairs and time to compete work, an estimated time for restoration is established and communicated to customers.
  • Prior to safely re-energizing homes and businesses, PG&E inspects adjacent facilities and ensure locations are safe to receive power

Where safe to do so and access is allowed, restoring service typically takes 48-72 hours depending on the extent of damage and complexity of the work.

View PG&E wildfire recovery support information and resources here.

Inspection Placards for Structures in Disaster Areas

Building Inspectors continue to inspect structures that are in evacuation zones. Upon returning to your property, you may see one of three different types of placards posted by the Placer County Building Division – a green placard, a yellow placard or a red placard. Be sure to read all notes on the placard. Do not remove, alter or cover placards until authorized by the Placer County Building Division. 

Green: The green placard means the structure is “Safe for Occupancy.” Your structure is safe to occupy as long as it has water, electrical and gas service (if gas appliances). Structures may be damaged, yet the safety of the structure was not significantly changed by the disaster.

Yellow: The yellow placard means the structure has been damaged and occupancy is restricted as noted on the placard as long as you have water, electricity and gas (if gas appliances). Repairs require permits from the County.

Red: The red placard means “No Entry.” Structures are damaged and pose an imminent threat to life or safety under expected loads or other unsafe conditions. Do not enter these structures.

Please Note: Although a structure may be placarded “Inspected” or “Restricted Use”, specific areas in and around the building could be further identified as unsafe.

If you believe your home or business has been damaged and has no placard posted, please contact the Placer County Building Division at (530) 745-3000, email: [email protected].