Staying Protected: California Wildfires
Updated: Jan 22, 2022
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.
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.
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
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
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