The West Coast of the USA has seen millions of acres ablaze in Wildfires over the last few weeks, devastating towns and blanketing communities in thick black smoke. Although such outbreaks are devastating at the best of times, the fires are particularly challenging during the Coronavirus pandemic with the vast majority of the population staying home for protection against the virus.
Scientists say the region’s wildfires are the worst in 18 years and have linked their increasing prevalence and intensity to climate change; plumes of smoke from the fires are so large, they have crossed the US and the Atlantic Ocean. The news emphasises the importance of using masks that can protect you not only during the pandemic but from the dangerous side effects of wildfire too, such as smoke inhalation.
What is wildfire?
A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire. Wildfires can burn millions of acres of land at shockingly fast speeds, consuming everything in their paths.
Wildfires often burn in rural environments and can destroy forests, grasslands, and more but they can quickly enter populated areas and cause catastrophic damage to buildings and infrastructure. Ground fires typically ignite in soil thick with organic matter that can feed the flames, like plant roots. Ground fires can smolder for a long time even an entire season causing a significant increase in air pollution. Surface fires, on the other hand, burn-in dead or dry vegetation that is lying or growing just above the ground. Parched grass or fallen leaves often fuel surface fires.
Over the years, California and areas of Western USA have been badly affected by various types of wildfire. Wildfires often start via natural occurrences like lightning, but they are sometimes started by human activity, intentionally and unintentionally. The growth of wildfire is normally determined by conditions and these can include droughts, high winds, and hot temperatures. When leaves, trees, and shrubs are all dried out, they become a catalyst of fuel for wildfire.
Tips on Staying Safe during Wildfire
If you live in an area where wildfire is likely to break out, it is essential to have a plan in place. Make sure you have access to a garden hose and put a supplies kit together. This can include items like filtered-masks, first aid kits, protective clothing, a means of communication, water, tinned food, and a torch. If you are told to evacuate do this right away. Lock your windows and doors and make sure someone knows where you are going if you have to leave. Make sure the route that you take is clear of fire hazards. Once the wildfire has come to a close, keep away from wildfire areas until you have been advised it is safe to approach them.
There are a few steps that you need to take for this preparation. United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has categorized these into two types of preparation, ‘Before Wildfire’ and ‘During Wildfire’. It is important to get your emergency kits ready (stock out medication, air cleaner, respirators) and know how you will get alerts (e.g social media information on high fire risk or an active fire).
How to Keep Up with Wildfire Updates in California
It is essential to keep up with the latest developments during a Californian wildfire. The California Government website includes a list of county hotlines that you can call for advice, support, and updates. Check online to see the latest wildfire maps and smoke maps to maintain your safety during a wildfire.
What are the Hotspot Areas Most Affected?
Many of the fires were caused by August’s lightning strikes, though dry conditions and warm temperatures have also been blamed. A state of emergency was declared in August as fires have raged across California and Oregon. Some of the worst-affected areas have included Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix. As a result, California, Washington, and Oregon have seen some of the lowest levels of air quality currently in the world.
The Importance of Wearing a Mask during Wildfire
If you live in an area where wildfire smoke happens, it is important to take a few steps to prepare for the fire season. This preparation is important especially for children, elders, and people with heart or lung disease.
Masks can filter out fine particles in the smoke from wildfires to protect you. It’s important to adjust your mask to ensure air cannot pass through the edges. The Cambridge Mask can prevent burning eyes, coughing, and shortness of breath. It can also protect from smoke that causes: suffocation from smoke, asthma attacks, heart problems, and other life-threatening conditions.
Whilst during a wildfire, kindly follow instructions from your local officials. Please do not rely on dust masks or bandanas. Find a mask that fits properly to your face and able to protect you from wildfire smoke.