Wildfires tend to occur during the late spring and summer months into late fall all over the country due to dry conditions and heat.
During wildfires, people and animals become at risk to smoke exposure and in some cases could have to evacuate depending on the growth and location of the wildfire. There are ways to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and your pets ranging from monitoring local air quality to having an emergency kit ready to go.
Steps to reduce your risk
One of the best ways to reduce your risk is to make sure you are prepared for wildfires according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Being prepared includes having emergency supplies, keeping wildfire smoke outside by closing off outside air and having a portable air clear or filter, and avoiding certain indoor activities that could create pollution such as vacuuming.
Stay inside, find shelter somewhere else, create a “clean room,” have N95 respirators, and air out your house, are some tips from the United States Environmental Protection Agency about reducing smoke exposure inside.
To reduce smoke outdoors, EPA suggests taking it easier when there is smoke in the air, reducing smoke in your car, relying on bandanas or masks, having an evacuation plan, and making sure you have enough food and medication on hand.
Keeping track of local air quality is a good way to see how your area will be affected. Some good resources include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) or check the AirNow fire and smoke map, according to the CDC. Monitor local news coverage and local government agencies on Facebook or Twitter for direction in case evacuation is needed.
Health issues to look out for from breathing in smoke, according to the CDC:
- Trouble breathing
- Stinging in your eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Runny, itchy nose
- Sinus irritation
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Asthma attacks
- Fast, increased heartbeat
Who is at risk?
People in the area surrounding a wildfire can feel the effects of the smoke. The American Lung Association suggests if you are someone who works outside, is under the age of 18, over the age of 65, or has asthma or other lung diseases, chronic heart diseases, or diabetes, you should speak with your doctor about how to prepare beforehand.
The CDC says that people with lung diseases such as asthma or heart disease are at higher risk from wildlife smoke. They also say the smoke may affect older adults, children, and pregnant women. Older adults may face an increased risk of heart and lung diseases. Children’s airways are developing and they tend to spend more time outside.
Smoke from fires can affect pets, horses, livestock, and other wildlife just like humans. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, animals who have cardiovascular or respiratory disease are at risk and should be monitored closely during a period of poor air quality.
If your animals are experiencing one of these signs, contact your veterinarian. Those signs include coughing or gagging, difficulting breathing, eye irritation, throat or mouth inflammation, nasal discharge, asthma, increased breathing rate, fatigue, weakness, reduced appetite, or disorientation.
Tips to keep animals safe during poor air quality include keeping them indoors as much as you can, avoiding being outdoors longer than a short bathroom break, and having a pet evacuation kit ready to go, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.