California is bracing itself for another bad fire season and much of the country has experienced prolonged drought. Between winter’s dryness, higher-than-average temperatures, and low water levels, vegetation is brittle and poised to be a perfect fuel source. In some regions of the country, higher-than-average rainfall is already leading to flooding. While we can’t prevent these natural disasters, we can prepare for them and take steps to protect our health.
Spring and Summer Outlook
More than half of the US is predicted to experience above-average temperatures in the coming months. Many regions are experiencing the most widespread drought since 2013—while others are at risk for floods. While these climatic changes will impact everyone, those in the drought zones are at especially high risk.
So far this year, more than 1.4 million acres have been impacted by wildfires. This is significantly more than the 10-year average. While the fire season has yet to really even begin, uncontained fires have already burnt through Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona.
The land spanning from California to the Rockies is 20+ years into its most serious drought of the last 1,200 years. The hot, water-depleted regions in the Southwest and Great Plains are bracing for disasters and above-normal risk, especially in the fire-prone months of June, July, and August.
But with unpredictable weather and patches of exceptional drought or heavy rain throughout the country, it’s a good idea for anyone, anywhere to be prepared for wildfires.
What Can We Do to Prepare for Wildfires?
If you’re in a region that commonly experiences wildfires, there are some steps you should take to prepare for them.
- Pay attention to the air quality and sign up for community fire alerts
- Have a well-established emergency plan and make sure everyone in the household knows what to do during an evacuation (account for pets, too!)
- Have copies of important documents available digitally (personal documents, IDs, insurance policies, etc.)
- Support your home with fire-resistant materials and a hose that can reach all areas of the property
- Establish a fire-resistant zone that has been cleared of all debris, leaves, or flammable leaves (at least 30 feet from your home)
- Designate a safe room in your home that can be closed off from the outdoors (use a portable air purifier here)
- Have supplies ready for an evacuation (first aid kit, medications, valuables, backup charging device, N95 masks, etc.)
Don’t return home until you have the green light from authorities. Even when you do make it back home, realize that the ground may have heat pockets that can spark another fire. Avoid any hot ash, smoldering debris, or charred trees. Check in with friends and family, but avoid making calls during emergency periods. Social media or text messages are best.
Wildfire Danger: What to Consider
When they burn out of control, wildfires can cause billions of dollars in economic damage. They can rage wildly, destroying tourist attractions and residential properties. Wildfires also pollute water supplies, and can burden small communities with evacuations. While fires can help to maintain healthy forest ecosystems, when they become uncontrolled, they can harm wildlife, compromise habitable ecosystems, and even destroy entire forests.
In addition to property losses and ecosystem damage, wildfires are problematic from a pollution standpoint. While burning, they release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into our atmosphere. Not only does this exacerbate global warming, but it can also create public health crises.
The smoke from wildfires can cause minimal damage, like respiratory tract and eye irritation. Because the fine particulate matter can penetrate deep into your lungs, smoke can also have more serious consequences, like bronchitis, reduced lung function, exacerbation of asthma, and even heart failure or premature death. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly can be especially vulnerable, as are those with COPD, asthma, or chronic heart and lung diseases.
How to Support Our Health During the Summer Months
Fortunately, there are ways we can stay healthy, even during the summer months.
The best—and most obvious—thing to do is to limit your exposure to smoke. If it’s hazy outside, avoid leaving the house. If wildfires are nearby or your region is experiencing poor air quality, limit the amount of outdoor activities and exercise you partake in. When that’s not possible, be sure to wear a N95 mask.
Additionally, be sure to keep your indoor air as clean as possible. This means keeping all doors and windows closed and using an air purifier with a HEPA filter. Avoid using the vacuum, or burning candles or incense. If you can, stock up on nonperishable foods that don’t require cooking—as a stove will add to indoor pollution levels.
Protect Your Health During Periods of Prolonged Rain or Flooding
Many of these practices can help those experiencing heavy rainfall and floods, too! Increased moisture in the air provides the perfect conditions for mold growth. Following a natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado, or flood, mold may rapidly grow in a home.
People with allergies, asthma, or other breathing conditions may be particularly vulnerable to mold exposure. Across the board, people may experience wheezing, skin irritation, shortness of breath, irritated eyes, a stuffy nose. Worse, people with COPD or weakened immune systems may develop mold infections in their lungs.
The mold should be immediately cleaned up with a bleach solution. Windows should be opened, and you should always wear protective eyewear, gloves, and an N95 mask. To help keep the air clean after removing mold, be sure to use an air purifier.
Breathe Easy Year-Round
Summer is meant to be enjoyed. While we can’t control the weather or prevent natural disasters, we can take steps to better support our health during them. AirDoctor is here to provide pure peace of mind, regardless of the season.