FEMA gives tips on combatting the effects of wildfire smoke

A new wildfire broke out and quickly put up a billowing smoke column on Sunday 6th July near Paulina Lake Road in the La Pine area in the state of Oregon.

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Understanding wildfire smoke and its risks

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released guidance on mitigating the dangers posed by wildfire smoke. This noxious by-product of wildfires is a cocktail of gases and microscopic particles produced by the combustion of trees, plants, buildings, and other materials. This week has seen major cities in North America affected by smoke emitted by ongoing wildfires across Canada.

The agency warns that these pollutants can cause significant irritation to the respiratory system, particularly in individuals who are most vulnerable. This includes those suffering from asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart disease patients, children, pregnant individuals, seniors, and outdoor workers.

Key steps to minimise exposure to wildfire smoke

FEMA strongly advises the public to stay informed and be proactive in reducing their exposure to harmful wildfire smoke. Key steps include:

  • Regularly monitoring the Air Quality Index or consulting the Air Now Fire and Smoke Map for updates on air conditions.
  • Opting to stay indoors in cleaner air spaces if outdoor air quality is compromised.
  • Utilising air conditioners, heat pumps, fans, and window shades to maintain comfortable temperatures during hot days, whilst avoiding equipment that draws in air from outside.
  • Limiting strenuous outdoor activities when smoke levels are high, or choosing less strenuous exercises to lower smoke inhalation.
  • Wearing an N95 respirator to provide protection from inhaling wildfire smoke particles.
  • Engaging with healthcare providers to understand and implement additional protections against wildfire smoke.
  • Stocking up on necessary medications and supplies to limit outdoor shopping trips during smoky conditions. If available, home delivery services can be used to minimise outdoor exposure.

Essential tools to help communities brace for wildfire smoke

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a Smoke Ready toolbox, designed to help communities better prepare for wildfire smoke. Additional resources include:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s smoke forecast tool, which provides Air Quality Forecast Guidance.
  • InciWeb, a resource for tracking the locations of active wildfires.
  • The guide, ‘Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials’, to aid in planning for smoke events, ensuring public safety, and communicating health risks associated with wildfire smoke.

Preventing Wildfires: Collective Action Required

FEMA emphasises the importance of community involvement in reducing wildfire incidents and the subsequent harmful smoke. Simple, often low-cost measures can drastically reduce the potential for homes to ignite during a wildfire, preventing accidental ignitions and promoting safer communities.

Further information and resources

The US Fire Administration provides additional resources and information to assist communities in their efforts to become more resilient to wildfires. FEMA encourages everyone to learn more about how their communities can adapt to be more fire resistant which be found by clicking here.

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