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Staying Protected: California Wildfires

Since mid-August, California has been hit with a series of suffocating fires, making our air quality one of the worst in the world. In Northern California specifically, where the fires are billowing dangerous amounts of smoke, breathing the air can be extremely unhealthy for sensitive demographics. However, there are several precautions you can take to protect you and your loved ones.


First, be cautious about inhaling the air around you. Dangerous pollutants may still be present in the air, even when you cannot smell them. Air quality is partially determined by quantifying the amount of particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the air, which is a major byproduct of fires.


Sensitive demographics should be especially careful. Inhaling air in which PM 2.5 levels are unusually high can be unhealthy for those with existing conditions such as asthma, heart disease, and lung disease. Particulates in the contaminated air can make their way into the lungs, causing inflammation and injury. This effect is worsened when a person struggles with respiratory illnesses.


Protection

To stay protected from the smoke, limit all outdoor activities, keep doors and windows shut at all times, and turn your air conditioner on the re-circulation setting. Keep in mind that most surgical masks are not sufficient for blocking out the smoke. Unless you have a mask designed to filter PM 2.5, like an N95, your mask will not protect you from air pollution. Cloth masks are useful for preventing the spread of germs and respiratory droplets, but they cannot filter out fine PM 2.5 particles effectively. To check the air quality in your area, visit the AirNow website and type in your zip code.


Evacuation

Wildfires are extremely unpredictable, so families should always be prepared for a possible evacuation. In order to best prepare your home for an evacuation, follow Cal Fire’s Pre-Evacuation List. Before evacuation, make sure to unlock your windows and move flammable materials away from the windows. Leave your lights on so that firefighters can see through the smoke.

Always have an emergency kit prepared; Cal Fire recommends a 3-day supply of non-perishable food and 3 gallons of water per person. You should document all of your possessions with a cellphone camera, especially irreplaceable antiques and valuable belongings. Make sure to record the outside of your house as well.Additionally, you should pack the following in your emergency supply kit:


Emergency Supply Kit

Extra glasses and contacts

Important documents (birth certificates, passports)

7 days worth of prescription medication

Map marked with at least 2 evacuation routes

Change of clothes

Extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash, traveler’s checks

First aid kit

Flashlight

Battery-powered radio and extra batteries

Hygiene products (deodorant, soap, wipes, etc)

If you have a pet -- pet food, water, leash

If you have time:

Valuables (easy to carry)

Family photos/ other priceless items

Personal computer info

Chargers for cell phones and laptops


Outdoors

Turn off any propane tanks

Bring flammables from the exterior of your house inside

Connect garden hoses to spigots for use by firefighters

Don’t keep sprinklers on or water running, as this can affect water pressure

Put the emergency kit into your vehicle

Place a ladder at the corner of your house

Seal ground/attic vents with pre-cut plywood or a store bought seal

Move propane appliances away from structures

Check on your neighbors! Make sure they’re preparing to leave


Additional Safety Measures

Keep a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight near your bed in case of a night evacuation

Locate your pets and keep them nearby

Prepare farm animals for transport and take them to a safe location early.



Finally, even if the fires do not directly affect you, make sure you are prepared for power outages, as they commonly occur before and after wildfires. Learn how to manually open your garage door and gates, and if possible, remove one vehicle from the garage before a power outage. Make sure your gas tank if over halfway full and if your car runs on an electrical generator, make sure you know where to connect it, which electrical cords to use, and the electrical load rating. And as always, ensure that your cellphone is fully charged and that you have a sufficient supply of bottled water.


We hope these tips will help you combat California’s sweeping wildfires and we hope everyone is staying safe and protected during this difficult time.



Written by Lily Sun

Researched by Natasha Koneru

Resources

https://www.redding.com/story/news/2020/08/21/california-widlfire-safety-information-fire-smoke-air-quality-covid-19/3408370001/

https://abc7news.com/weather/how-to-prepare-for-a-wildfire-evacuation/2516071/

https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/go-evacuation-guide/pre-evacuation-preparation-steps/

https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/go-evacuation-guide/power-outage-information/

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