Respiratory precautions against wildfire smoke

wildfire_smokeWildfire. It can happen fast. And when dry brush and fallen foliage goes up, there’s a lot of smoke with the fire. Your first priority is to get away from the fire. Run upwind (Into the wind. It should be blowing in your face not your back.) That should limit your risk of death and smoke inhalation as the smoke will be blowing away from you.

You must limit your exposure to smoke. Pay attention to local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. (Check if your community provides reports on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI).) Also pay attention to public health messages on the radio, TV and mobile phone apps, about taking additional safety measures.

Refer to visibility guides if they are available. Not every community has a monitor that measures the amount of particles that are in the air. In the western part of the United States, some communities have guidelines to help people estimate AQI based on how far they can see.

If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.

Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce breathing problems. A HEPA filter may reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air.

Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.

If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

Do not rely on dust masks.  They are not enough. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke.  Instead, keep a wet cloth over your nose and mouth if you must go out in wildfire smoke.