This summer has been especially hot and dry, which creates an ideal environment for wildfires to ignite. They’ve been flaring up across the country and are a serious threat to people’s health and wellbeing. We all know wildfires can threaten wildlife, property, and our lives, but the smoke produced by these fires is just as devastating.
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. What’s worse is that smoke from wildfires can travel long distances. So even if the fire is burning several counties over, the residual smoke can still threaten your health.
Here are some simple tips to stay healthy if a wildfire threatens your area:
Prevent wildfires from starting. Of course the easiest way to protect your health is to help prevent a fire from ever starting. Check with your local fire department to be sure the weather is safe enough for burning before you light your match. Prepare, maintain, and extinguish campfires safely. Comply with local regulations if you plan to burn trash or debris.
Keep indoor air as clean as possible if you are advised to stay indoors. Keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you don’t have an air conditioner and it’s too warm to stay inside with the windows close, seek shelter in a designated evacuation center or away from the affected area.
Check local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Find out if your community provides reports about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI). In addition, pay attention to public health messages about taking safety precautions, such as evacuation or sheltering in place.
Follow the advice of your doctor or other healthcare provider about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or other lung disease. Consider evacuating the area if you are having trouble breathing. Call your physician for further advice if your symptoms worsen.
Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke.
Evacuation from the path of wildfires. Listen to the news to learn about current evacuation orders. Follow the instructions of local officials about when and where to evacuate. Take only essential items with you. Follow designated evacuation routes – others may be blocked–and expect heavy traffic. To learn how to make an evacuation plan and emergency supply kit click here.
For more information on wildfires visit: http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/wildfires/
Have wildfires affected your community? Tell us what you did to stay safe.