Wildfires spread fast and furiously, filling the environment with thick, heavy smoke. Even if you’re far away from the fire, you still need to be prepared and protect yourself from the toxic smoke. Smoke inhalation from wildfires adversely affects your health in both the short and long-term. As part of your wildfire emergency preparedness plan, you need to ensure your family’s respiratory health is well-protected while you shelter at home or during your evacuation.
What’s in wildfire smoke?
Smoke borne from wildfire contains debris from burning wood and other organic material. It also contains a mixture of various gases. While the smoke itself can cause burning eye irritation and make it difficult to breathe, it is the fine particles of debris that are most dangerous to your health. These enter your lungs each time you breathe, triggering allergic reactions and existing lung diseases. If you already suffer from chronic heart or other medical conditions, wildfire smoke can worsen your health problems significantly.
Who is most affected by wildfire smoke?
Heavy wildfire smoke affects everyone, causing breathing issues and eye irritation. It can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning if you remain in a smoky environment for too long. People with already-compromised immune or respiratory systems are at increased risk for becoming ill from wildfire smoke.
It is vitally important you have additional wildfire emergency equipment, including breathing apparatus for those who:
- Suffer from lung or heart disease
- Have diabetes
- Have asthma
- Are pregnant
Young children and the elderly are also at increased risk for wildfire smoke-related health problems. People with developing or debilitated respiratory systems require a higher oxygen intake, allowing more harmful particles to enter their lungs.
How to Prevent Wildfire Smoke-Related Health Issues
When a wildfire is in the area, it is important to stay on top of the latest events of the wildfire using a weather radio. Knowing where the fire is at all times is important because fires travel fast, leaving you little time to prepare before evacuation. This is what makes pre-planning for such an emergency so important. Local authorities will also issue air quality reports through local news outlets or on government sites like AirNow.gov.
Other prevention tips:
In advance of an approaching wildfire, make sure all of your windows, doors, and vents are closed. Don’t burn anything indoors, including candles and fireplaces, to reduce pollution inside. Stay indoors, unless it is extremely hot outside. Use an indoor air cleaner to keep the indoor air as clean as possible. You can run your air conditioners but make sure filters are clean to prevent bringing the smoke indoors. If there is a loss of power, evacuate.
As part of your emergency plan, you must be ready to evacuate the area if you have high-risk family members who are susceptible to smoke-related health problems. Pre-plan a meeting location away from the fires, such as a hotel, family member’s home, or a shelter.
The Right Equipment
Keep a supply of respirator masks in your wildfire supply kit. The masks are designed to prevent small particles from entering your mouth and lungs. For those with compromised health, having an oxygen mask will further prevent smoke inhalation and make it easier for them to breathe during the chaos. Anyone in the household with asthma should have access to inhalers and other medication.
The more prepared you are to deal with the emergencies a wildfire creates, the more likely you are to avoid additional health complications caused by inhaling smoke and debris.