The wildfires blazing across California are causing people to lose homes, vehicles, jobs, and more. But did you know that they are also adversely affecting the health of many people living in the area of the fires? We learn from an early age that the smoke from fires inside our homes can cause terrible effects, from burns to smoke inhalation that could cause us to lose consciousness while making an escape. Officials in California have issued air quality and smoke warnings in several counties, as conditions have caused a variety of people to fall ill from smoke inhalation.
Wildfire smoke is not just smoke from trees in the forest. It not only encompasses burning vegetation, but also building materials that have been mixed in with gases as structure fires begin throughout multiple counties. Many people escaping the wreckage left by the fire experienced as minor pains as stinging eyes to wheezing, to more serious conditions like chest pain, asthma attacks, and fast heartbeats. Wildfire smoke is especially harmful to the elderly, children, and those with chronic heart and lung diseases.
Staying prepared for these scenarios can, essentially, save many lives. This is why it is important to remember some tips when a wildfire is spreading throughout the area and you know you will have to face the dangerous outdoors.
Protecting Yourself During a Wildfire
Keeping Up to Date: You can stay up to date on local air quality reports to understand the risks of the area. For instance, you could find out health warnings from news stations who are covering updates in the area. Your community may provide an Air Quality Index or you may be able to stay updated by checking the report on AirNow.gov.
Following Guidelines: Many communities, especially those that exist in areas where wildfires are more prevalent, have monitors that measure particles in the air supply. We have guidelines in the U.S. that help citizens determine if there are particles in the air at any given time.
Staying Indoors and Staying Safe: If you have been advised to stay indoors, you should always keep your windows and doors closed and run an air conditioner if possible. However, if you do so, you want to keep the fresh-air intake closed so that you can prevent smoke from seeping into your home. If you are unable to safely remain in your home, try to seek shelter at an evacuation shelter, of which there tend to be many when a disaster like this occurs.
Decrease Indoor Pollution: If you remain in your household, you should never burn candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves, as they lead to further pollution. Try to also stay away from activities like vacuuming and smoking.
Follow Doctor’s Advice: If you have asthma or some other lung disease, you will have to protect yourself during a time when your health matters the most. If you have trouble breathing, know when to evacuate. Listen to your doctor if they have suggested certain medications to you.
Never Rely on Dust Masks: You may have found dust masks at your local hardware store, but they are not designed to protect your lungs from even the smallest particles in the air during a wildfire.
Evacuate: Listen to all evacuation orders you may have heard on news stations. You should always escape when you can, because it could save your life.