Beyond the flames

In California, it is not uncommon for wildfires to destroy homes and put people’s lives at risk. Though the danger and devastation of the fire itself is overwhelming, the hazards of wildfires go far beyond the flames.

Smoke produced by wildfires carries tiny particles — sometimes small enough to fit on the head of a pin. Because of their small size, these particles easily bypass the body’s normal filtration system, ending up in the lungs or even blood system.

Smoke inhalation can affect anyone, causing everything from mild eye irritation and a runny nose to chronic heart and lung diseases. And for people with asthma or cardiovascular diseases, smoke can trigger asthma or heart attacks.

When wildfires spread, it’s helpful to know the air quality in your area so you can protect yourself and your family. To see current warnings, or even look up air quality by zip code, you can use the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

No matter what, the best way to avoid the negative health impacts of smoke is to limit your exposure by staying inside or seeking shelter further from the fire.

If you have an air conditioner, use it to recirculate the air. And, if you’re worried about the air quality in your home, it may be smart to invest in an air purification system.

If you do not have an air conditioner, it is important to close all windows and doors to keep the smoke out. With doors and windows closed, you can cut your exposure in half.

It is also a good idea to have a supply of masks on hand in case the smoke levels are high or you have to go outside — but towels and bandanas and even dust or surgical masks won’t cut it.

You will need a respirator mask that actually blocks particles from entering your lungs, like an N-95 or P-100 mask, which you can purchase at a general or hardware store. Make sure to wear the mask correctly, with both bands secured behind your head and the mask tight on your face.

If a wildfire is in your area, it is best to let common sense guide your decisions. Be sure to listen for news about evacuation orders, and follow instructions when given them.

Read more about the negative health impact of the wildfires happening in California.

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