Landscape contractors working in Santa Barbara County--one of the areas hit by the recent, terrible California wildfires--are being strongly urged not to use leaf blowers until further notice.

The problem is the toxic ash left behind by the inferno. Officials from the County Public Health Department and Air Pollution Control District warn that it poses potential health risks. They’re asking that cleanup efforts at residential and commercial properties come to a halt until an advisory can be issued.

Inhaled ash may be irritating to the nose, throat and lungs. Anyone doing landscape or gardening work in and around the fire area should wear properly fitting N-95 masks, which the Health Department is giving away free of charge.

Skin can also be injured by falling ash. Gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants are recommended, as the ash contains metals, chemicals and potentially, asbestos. If any of it lands on skin, it should be washed off immediately; however, wet ash can cause chemical burns.

If cleanup is absolutely necessary, workers are advised to water down the ash first to avoid getting into the air. Water, wet cloths and mops should be used to clean off items and surfaces.

In lieu of leaf blowers, health officials advise using a wet/dry shop vacuum with a HEPA filter and disposable bag. Or, sweep wet ash gently with a broom, followed by a light hose-down. The burnt debris should then be bagged and put into trash cans.

Symptoms related to smoke, soot and ash exposure include repeated coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, headaches, nausea, unusual fatigue and lightheadedness. Anyone experience these symptoms should see a doctor.