California Wildfires – Enough to Jeopardize Your Health?

The recent wildfires in Southern California have caused nearly 500,000 people to flee their homes-the largest evacuation in the state’s history. Though wildfires are a natural means of rejuvenating the landscape, the havoc that they wreck on populated areas can be tremendous. This is partially because there is more to worry about than just the consuming flames-the most deadly aspect of a fire is the clouds of thick smoke it creates. Flames are dangerous to property, it is the smoke created by wildfires can travel for miles on the wind.

The winds that cause the California fires to blaze out of control have eased over the past couple of days, but for individuals in that area of the country (and especially those with respiratory concerns) the trouble may be just beginning.

For most people, small amounts of smoke do not cause health concerns other than headaches due to the lingering odor. Individuals with weakened lung or heart conditions are the first to experience severe symptoms due to smoke. Use common sense when dealing with wildfire smoke-you can put off mowing the lawn for another day is it means that doing so will cost you your health.

Who is affected the most by smoke?

  • People with heart or lung diseases, such as congestive heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma.
  • Children
  • Elderly Persons
  • Everyone– no matter how healthy you are, smoke can be detrimental to your health. Carbon monoxide and ozone produced by the fires can be deadly.

Things to keep in mind

  • When the EPA’s Air Quality Index indicates that the air outdoors is unhealthy, it is a good idea to keep your house as smoke-free as possible:
    1. Close all windows and keep doors shut whenever possible.
    2. Shut the fresh air vents on air conditioning and heaters to avoid drawing in smoke-filled air from outdoors.
    3. Replace ordinary furnace or air conditioning filters with HEPA filters to ensure that even the finest particles are being removed from your indoor air. Consider Dynamic Air Quality Solutions 1” Panel Filter or the equally effective for those without a forced air central heating or cooling system. The Dynamic Air Cleaner CT500 is an in room air cleaner which is very effective at handling smoke.
    4. Run a HEPA filter air purifier with capabilities of removing fumes and odors as well as particles. An excellent purifier for handling all of the dangers associated with smoke is the IQAir Health Pro Plus.
  • If you have asthma, make sure that you take your prescribed medications as often as advised. If you are monitoring your lungs using a peak flow meter, be sure to do so regularly and record the results on paper. If you notice any changes, call your doctor.

Remember:

  • Smoke particles are extraordinarily small in size, so they can only be removed from the air by true HEPA quality filters. The EPA strongly cautions against using an ozone producing air purifier when keeping your air clean while nearby wildfires are raging. The ozone can accumulate when you home is closed up until it reaches unhealthy levels.
  • Do not rely on face masks to protect you from smoke. There are almost no masks that can keep smoke out of your lungs-and even those that do work on the particles can not protect you from the carbon monoxide.