Wildfire....no not the song!

Hello! Before we get into the nitty gritty TheVentMaskTeam hopes you take 3 minutes to enjoy the music.....then read on to see just what real wildfires are causing across the US.

August is peak wildfire season in the western United States, and unfortunately for those who like to enjoy the summer weather, that means staying indoors whenever a new wildfire starts burning. 

Aside from wreaking havoc on wildlife habitats, displacing people from their homes, and even killing people, wildfires can also be a major health risk even for people who live hundreds of miles away from the burning. 

There are an average of 72,000 wildfires a year, and smoke from all wildfires affected an estimated two-thirds of all Americans in 2011, according to estimates from the environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council.  

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Fine particles in wildfire smoke can cause burning eyes, coughing, sore throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, a runny nose and bronchitis. In people with pre-existing conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and chest pain, fine particles can also exacerbate these diseases and cause even more serious symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue and heart palpitations, notes the Environmental Protection Agency.

Older people are also at greater risk of harm from inhaling wildfire smoke because of their increased risk of heart and lung disease in general, as are children whose respiratory systems are still developing. 

The smoke from wildfires contains both gases and then fine particles from the burning trees/plants and structures. The smoke is very irritating to both our respiratory system, with worsening of heart and lung conditions - and to our eyes - producing irritation and watery eyes.

 

Have you ever heard of a “smoke wave” or know that there is a area of the US called the Smoke Belt?

 

A wild fire blazes create smoke waves — pulses of pollution containing everything from charred plastic residue to soot to other small particles that lodge deep in the lungs. For example, the effect of the fires in Northern California’s wine country, which destroyed thousands of homes and killed 43 people, went well beyond the burn zone. The smoke choked the San Francisco Bay Area, home to 7 million people in nine counties, for days.

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Colette Hatch, 75, of Santa Rosa, who suffers from lung disease and uses a nebulizer daily, evacuated to her daughter’s home in Sunnyvale, in Silicon Valley, when the fires came. But even nearly 100 miles away, Hatch said she struggled to breathe, coughing so hard she couldn’t sleep. Known collectively as the Central Valley, it stretches for hundreds of miles roughly north to south, bracketed by mountain ranges that trap some of the dirtiest air in America. Increasingly, wildfires like the ones in Northern California’s wine country funnel smoke into the chute, significantly raising the pollution levels in places as far away as Fresno.

 

Elva Hernandez, 51, has lived in the San Joaquin Valley most of her life. She’s suffered from asthma since she was 10. This summer she was stuck inside her house for several weeks as smoke waves suffocated her neighborhood in the small town of Kerman, Calif., near Fresno.

“The smell, all the dust, the smoke, the smog, everything, it’s just — you can’t breathe,” said Hernandez, a stay-at-home mom whose husband analyzes lab samples at a hospital. “You can’t live your life normally.”

The San Joaquin Valley is home to 4 million people, many of them poor. One in six children suffers from asthma. Poor people often are most affected by air pollution, partly because they tend to live in more drafty housing in more polluted neighborhoods.

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But enforcement of federal regulations dating to the Nixon administration has been reducing air pollution from fossil fuels and fertilizers in the valley, requiring cleaner engines for trucks and the replacement of outdated equipment on farms.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of positive trends,” said Jon Klassen, manager of the air monitoring team at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. At the same time, “there’s a lot more emissions coming from these fires. They’re uncontrollable. They’re very difficult to deal with.”

“As the climate continues to change, we’re going to see much more smoke, at higher intensities in the future,” says Jia Coco Liu, an environmental health researcher at Johns Hopkins. Based on air pollution from past and projected future wildfires in the American West, Liu and a team of scientists at Yale estimated that by mid-century more than 82 million people will experience smoke waves—more than two consecutive days with high levels of wildfire-related air pollution. People in the new Smoke Belt—Northern California, Western Oregon, and the Great Plains—are likely to suffer the highest exposure.

And there’s one more bit of bad news: Just as fire behaves differently in a city than it does out in the wild, so does smoke. Urban areas, with their concrete roads and walls of glass and steel, tend to stop a fire in its tracks. All those buildings and alleyways prevent wind from blowing fresh embers around. But those same aerodynamics mean that smoke gets trapped in cities. Liu’s latest research, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that metropolitan areas, even ones very far away from any actual wildfires, had much higher levels of particulate matter in the air than rural areas. An urban smoke island effect, if you will.

 

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It is highly apparent that wild fires contribute to worsening allergy and asthma symptoms to people who live near or far from the burning grounds.

 

Again the words of Jon Klassen, manager of the air monitoring team at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, “there’s a lot more emissions coming from these fires. They’re uncontrollable. They’re very difficult to deal with.” His words make me wonder… What can I control while these wildfires burn across our country?  Here’s what I can control….the amount of smoke particulate in my home! As you read how to limit the effects of wildfire smoke notice #3 & #4….that’s what I can control!

 

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How can you limit the effects to you and your family?

Take these steps to decrease your risk from wildfire smoke.

1.    Check local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Find out if your community provides reports about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) or check the report on AirNow.gov. In addition, pay attention to public health messages about safety measures.

2.    Consult local visibility guides. Some communities have monitors that measure the amount of particles in the air. In the western United States, some states and communities have guidelines to help people determine if there are high levels of particulates in the air by how far they can see.

3.    Keep indoor air as clean as possible if you are advised to stay indoors. Keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner, 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 in a designated evacuation center or away from the affected area.

4.    Use extra filtration in your home like VentMask Vent Register Air Filters. Trap and removing more of the particulate found in wildfire smoke that is missed by you main filtration system that can build up in your ducting and be introduced into your home even after the wildfires have stopped burning.

5.    Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution. Burning candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves can increase indoor pollution. Vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home, contributing to indoor pollution. Smoking also puts even more pollution into the air.

6.    Prevent wildfires from starting. Prepare, build, maintain and extinguish campfires safely. Follow local regulations if you burn trash or debris. Check with your local fire department to be sure the weather is safe enough for burning.

7.    Follow the advice of your doctor or other healthcare provider about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Consider evacuating if you are having trouble breathing. Call your doctor for  advice if your symptoms worsen.

8.    Do not rely on dust masks for protection. 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 the small particles found in wildfire smoke.

9.    Evacuate from the path of wildfires. Listen to the news to learn about current evacuation orders. Follow the instructions of local officials about when and where to evacuate. Take only essential items with you. Follow designated evacuation routes–others may be blocked–and plan for heavy traffic.

TheVentMaskTeam wants you to be safe and healthy thru this wildfire season. If you’re in doubt as to your preparedness for a wildfire, consult The US Wildfire Administrations web page and be ready! 

https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/wildfire.html