Each year, wildfires rage across the U.S. They have already begun in California this year. Smoke in the air contains tiny particles that affect air quality. These particles can irritate your eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Poor air quality can worsen asthma symptoms. Children and those with respiratory disease like asthma are at high risk for asthma episodes when the air quality is poor.
Wildfires do not only affect those in the immediate fire area. Smoke can blow many miles away and impact people hundreds of miles away.
Be Prepared to Evacuate
If you live in an area that is prone to wildfires, you may need to prepare to evacuate. You will need to manage your asthma and any other health conditions in the event of an emergency. Have a disaster kit ready to go in case you need to leave your home quickly.
Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke
If you are in an area affected by wildfire smoke, take precautions to protect yourself and your family from the poor air quality. If you are "down wind" from active fires, it is important to watch your air quality.
- Monitor the situation around you:
- Check your local air quality at AirNow.gov. You can also sign up to receive air quality email notices for your ZIP code.
- Check current fire conditions at AirNow.gov.
- Check real-time smoke monitoring data, from U.S. Forest Service.
- Stay indoors as much as possible and reduce physical activity outside.
- Keep window and doors closed to help prevent polluted outside air from getting in.
- Avoid using anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves and candles.
- Don't do things in your home that stirs up particles already inside your home.
- Run your air conditioner if you have one. Set the air intake to "recirculate" and keep the filter clean. If you don't have air conditioning, staying inside with the windows closed may become dangerous if the weather is extremely hot. Seek alternative shelter.
- If you must go outdoors, wear a mask with a particulate respirator. Look for NIOSH and N95 or P100 printed on the mask. It should have two straps and should cover your nose and chin.
- Carry your quick-relief medicine with you wherever you go and follow your Asthma Action Plan.
- Keep children in areas with cleaner air. Masks with particulate respirators are not recommended for children because they may not fit properly.
- Take steps to improve your indoor air quality as much as possible. Improve your home's indoor air quality by using CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® products, such as air filters, air cleaners, HVAC systems, vacuums and more. To find out if a product meets our scientific standards to become CERTIFIED, look for this mark on the product's package or advertisements:
Take Additional Precautions Due to COVID-19
Wildfire smoke can affect your lungs and immune systems, making you more likely to get lung infections, such as COVID-19. Because of the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 this year, you need to take extra precautions.
In addition to the steps above:
- Choose home delivery when possible instead of in-person shopping. If you must shop in person, wear a mask, practice physical distancing and wash your hands often.
- Make sure you have a 30-day supply of your asthma medicines. Have them in a place where you can easily take them with you if you evacuate.
- Remember that cloth face masks or coverings and surgical masks that protect against COVID-19 will not protect you from wildfire smoke. But some masks may protect you from the smoke, such as an N95 mask or one with a PM 2.5 filter. Many N95 masks have an exhalation valve that will not reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. You can wear a cloth or surgical mask over a mask with a valve.
- Know the difference between COVID-19 symptoms and exposure to wildfire smoke. Some symptoms overlap. Coughing and trouble breathing can happen with both conditions. But only COVID-19 will come with a fever and other symptoms like chills and diarrhea.
- If you must evacuate, check with your local government for their direction because of COVID-19. Be prepared for symptom checks, physical distancing and to wear face masks or coverings at shelters. Don[t forget to bring extra face masks or coverings with you.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more information on protecting yourself from wildfires during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protect Yourself During Cleanup
Disasters generate debris that can include building rubble, trees and shrubs, personal property, ash and charred wood. Follow your community management guidelines for disposal. Learn more from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about handling debris.
Smoke and ash contain harmful particles that can irritate even healthy lungs.
- If you have to clean up ash on your property, wear a mask with a particulate respirator. Wash your clothes and shower as soon as possible after exposure.
- Keep children away from areas with ash until it has been cleaned.
- If your home has water damage, take steps to protect yourself from mold.
Updated Aug. 19, 2020