The sight of fires blazing through acres of land is a scene out of a movie. Ironically, it is happening in the very same place where movies are made and what most movie stars call home. The 2018 California Wildfires is the most destructive one yet burning 1, 557, 855 acres of land and destroying whatever is on its way. Today, firefighters are still battling two major wildfires that continue to burn its way through California, one in Butte County and the other in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. The Camp Fire continues to rage north of Sacramento while the Woolsey Fire burns outside Los Angeles. But the effects of this devastating tragedy goes way more than just the areas affected. Smoke filled air now plagues San Francisco and cities more than 100 miles away from the wildfire. And this may just be the beginning of a long battle against the effects of the wildfire to the air quality in California.
A Wildfire’s Effects on Air Quality
Unhealthy air quality warnings have now been issued throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and other affected cities in California. Here are the facts you need to know about the effects of wildfire smoke:
Wildfire smoke is composed of particles from building materials and burning vegetation mixed with gases making it very harmful to your health. And since you can’t really do a lot in improving air quality outside, the least you can do is to stay indoors as much as possible and improve indoor air quality in your home with the help of air purifiers.
Wildfires emit huge amounts of brown and black carbon, carbon dioxide and ozone precursors that can affect the climate on a regional or global scale, depending on the severity of the fire.
Wildfires also release substantial amounts of nitrogen oxides and volatile and semivolatile organic materials that can affect first responders and local residents living in affected areas. This is why it’s important to invest in air cleaners that help minimize these pollutants in homes and improve indoor air quality. Even residents in neighboring regions should apply the same practices as these pollutants can also be transported in the air.
Exposure to wildfire smoke may cause wheezing, coughing, difficulty of breathing, increased heartbeat and chest pain. Some people may also experience symptoms that mimic a sinus infection including runny nose, tiredness, sore throat and headache. Those with existing asthma may have an attack with prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke. So, if you have family members with asthma, make sure to have air purifiers around your house to prevent an attack.
People who have existing heart or lung diseases are at higher risks for complications resulting from exposure to wildfire smoke. This is why health experts recommend that these individuals should consult their doctors on how to deal with the situation if it
happens. Fine particles in the air can trigger respiratory complications like bronchitis according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and it can be harmful for those with preexisting conditions of the heart and lungs.
Wildfire smoke is also very harmful to the elderly, children and
pregnant women. Children are at a higher risk for more severe symptoms because they breathe more air per pound of boy weight than adults and their lungs are still developing.
How to Stay Healthy Amidst the Smoke
With the air quality plummeting to unhealthy levels in San Francisco and neighboring areas, there is a real threat to the health of its residents and visitors. But there are ways to stay healthy when it’s smoky:
Check the Air Quality Index before heading outdoors. Regular updates are being released every now and then to warn residents and visitors in California if they should limit time outdoors, so it’s best to make sure that the air is good before heading out.
Stay indoors if you can and keep indoor air quality clean by avoiding the use of gas stoves or fireplaces, smoking and burning candles. Experts also say that vacuum cleaners may keep fine particles circulating in the air. Invest in air cleaners instead to make sure that your home’s air quality is maintained
If you need to go out, wear some protection. Masks and N95 and P100 respirators provide protection if they fit properly. Respirators may be uncomfortable to wear, especially for those with facial hair, but they keep fine particles in the air from entering the nose and into your lungs.
If you’ve been outside, make sure to change your clothes once
you get home and rinse out red, irritated eyes due to exposure. Doctors also recommend increasing your fluid intake to keep
yourself from being dehydrated. Even if the air outside your home looks clear, you still need to take precautionary measures because fine particles may still be present and will persist for weeks.
With wildfire smoke affecting the air quality in San Francisco, its
public health department has released a map of libraries and other public buildings with filtered air. So, if you’ve been outside for a long time, you can stay in one of these establishments just to get some fresh air. The city’s homeless are also encouraged to stay here to protect themselves from the effects of overexposure from the wildfire smoke.
To say that the California wildfire is devastating would probably be an understatement. This is now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of the state and it has taken away the lives and properties of innocent people. The death toll from the Camp Fire in Northern California is now at 63 and the number of missing people in both wildfires is now at an alarming 634.
The fires have also recorded over $2.975 billion in damages, $1.366 billion of which are from fire suppression. And the bad news is, these numbers could still go up every day as firefighters continue to do what they can to end the fires. So, we can only hope for things to get better soon in California and that no more lives are lost in this tragedy.