The U.S. experiences over 100,000 wildfires every year, which burn more than 5 million acres of land combined. Under optimal climate conditions, a wildfire can spread at a rate of 14 miles per hour and easily consume any burnable item in its path.
The destructive capabilities of its flames are not the only danger that a wildfire presents. Wildfires generate a tremendous amount of smoke that can extend for hundreds of miles beyond the periphery of the fire itself. The smoke presents significant health concerns, especially for children, seniors, and people with chronic respiratory conditions.
Some wildfires occur naturally, but people start most wildfires and do so accidentally. The most unfortunate aspect of wildfires is that the vast majority of them were preventable simply through proper education and awareness. This is why it is so important for all of us to comply with local fire regulations: Never burn trash, ignite fireworks or light a grill without first ensuring that the current weather conditions are safe, and always extinguish campfires and dispose of smoke materials properly.
In order to protect your family from fire, FEMA advises installing a dual-sensor smoke alarm in each bedroom and at a central point on every level of the home. The benefit of dual-sensor smoke alarms is that they can detect hot, smoldering and fast-moving fires. In addition, they are sensitive enough to detect the smoke from a wildfire that is many miles away. FEMA also advises to test all smoke detectors each month and to change batteries each year regardless of the current battery’s condition.
Smoke, even from distant sources, can exacerbate chronic lung and heart conditions, including angina, asthma, COPD, emphysema and heart failure. Smoke can also damage the eyes and respiratory track of otherwise healthy people. In addition, smoke contains ultrafine particles that can embed deep in the lungs and even pass directly into the bloodstream, which can cause inflammation, mucus production, airway constriction and plaque buildup.
- If you see a fire or smoke, call 911 immediately. Never assume that someone else made the call.
- Monitor air quality reports, and be mindful of potential health warnings for your area. The EPA is an excellent source of information and provides an air quality index (AQI) as well as wildfire advisories and forecasts. Adhere to all recommendations as much as possible, and be sure to help elderly and disabled neighbors follow the advisements as well.
- If available, monitor the visibility guides for your area. Many communities monitor particulate levels in the air and provide guidelines when the amount is at an unsafe level.
- Remain indoors whenever an official advisement calls for it. Maintain optimal indoor air quality: Keep windows and doors closed, ensure proper ventilation, use the air conditioner, preferably in recirculation mode, and run a portable air purifier with both a HEPA and activated carbon filter.
- If a wildfire is ongoing in your region, monitor it closely. The direction and intensity of the fire and smoke can change abruptly. If you’re instructed to evacuate, do so immediately and only take pets and essential items. Follow designated routes, and never take shortcuts.
- In the case of an evacuation, never return home until you have seen an official statement indicating that it is safe to do so. When returning, be cautious and keep an eye out for smoke, fire, fallen trees and downed power lines.
- It is a good idea to operate a HEPA air purifier in the home regardless of the presence of smoke to ensure optimal air quality. An air purifier with a HEPA filter removes at least 99.97 percent of all particles down to 0.3 microns in size. Most of the particulate matter that makes up wildfire smoke is between 2.5 and 10 microns in size.
- If you must go outdoors, breathe through a wet cloth to filter out particles and reduce heat. There are N95 or N100 respirators available, and they are quite effective at filtering smoke particles.
- Do not use dust masks while the fire is active and the smoke is visible in the air. They will trap large particles but will be largely ineffective against the smaller, more dangerous particles.
- Avoid strenuous activities indoors and outdoors when air quality is low.
- When driving, keep windows and vents closed, and use the air conditioning system in recirculation mode.
- Drink lots of water to remain hydrated and to thin mucus.
- With preparation and caution, you can breathe well through the fire season. If you or a family member has asthma or other respiratory condition, discuss with your doctor what to do when symptoms occur. Most asthma sufferers will have an action plan to follow and perhaps even medication or oxygen. Do not deviate from the plan due to a wildfire unless instructed to by the physician.
- If you or a family member has a chronic health condition, seek your doctor’s advice for managing it during the fire season and in the event of a wildfire. The doctor may prescribe an expanded treatment plan and additional or alternative medications. If your conditions worsen, evacuate the area immediately, and then contact the doctor.
- Avoid smoking indoors and out. Now is a great time to quit!
- Avoid burning anything, including stoves, candles, incense, oils and potpourri.
- Do not stir up dust. If you must dust, do so with a damp cloth, and if you must vacuum, do so with a vacuum cleaner that is fitted with a HEPA filter.
- Note that symptoms can remain for several days after exposure. Furthermore, dangers can remain for days after the fire is dead and the smoke is no longer visible.
- If your home requires cleanup after the wildfire, be sure that everything is wet prior to cleaning so that you do not stir up the dust and ash. Wear an appropriate dust mask.
During a wildfire, most people will spend long periods closed up in their homes, and an air purifier with a HEPA filter is an invaluable tool. It ensures that most smoke particles that do get into the house are trapped rather than breathed in, and it ensures that the recirculated air remains fresh and free from particulates and contaminants. HEPA filtration is so effective that it is invaluable year round, and many asthma and allergy sufferers experience a significant or complete reduction of symptoms during use.
Clean Air Plus is a veteran and family owned small business. We represent the leading manufacturers in HEPA filtration including Austin Air, IQAir, Amaircare, Oransi and Airpura. Shop online or call one of our friendly experts at 888.247.1147. We'll be happy to help.