You may be miles from a wildfire,
but you can still be in danger from the smoke.
News of another catastrophic wildfire broke yesterday morning, this time sweeping through Ventura County, a region located an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles. In only 13 hours, nearly 45,000 acres have burned, leaving 150 buildings destroyed and 27,000 people forced to evacuate. Due to dry California conditions, the current 40-60 mph winds continue to propel the fire onwards.
Last month, we covered the inevitability of increasing wildfires thanks to climate change, and how you can take charge in shielding your home, family, and finances from potential wildfire threat. Although safeguarding your assets may seem like the utmost priority, protecting yourself from the invisible dangers of wildfires may be far more essential. We are talking of course, about your physical health.
Those in Ventura County and surrounding areas will experience health problems that will arise from the hazardous air quality brought upon by the wildfire smoke. This mix of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation, building materials, and more, can make even the healthiest of people sick. Trouble breathing, irritated sinuses, chest pain, headaches, asthma flare-ups, and complications in those who suffer from lung disease or heart conditions may occur. Healthcare costs are further exacerbated in pregnant people, the elderly, and children.
What is the average healthcare cost?
Unfortunately, not many estimates exist despite the rapid growth in frequency and severity of US wildfires. In fact, human health impacts from exposure to wildfire smoke are often ignored in estimates of monetized damages from wildfires. According to a recent National Center for Biotechnology Information study conducted over the course of ten years, wildfire smoke in the Western US creates $165 million in annual morbidity and mortality health costs.
But what are your potential healthcare costs? Science Direct published a paper a few years ago after collecting healthcare data following the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County’s modern history. They attributed the cost of illness estimate to be $84.42 per exposed person per day, which takes into account the cost of defensive actions taken as well as the effects over a long period of time.
The flame may be gone in a few hours, but the burned area can produce harmful (and invisible) smoke for days or weeks. Here are some tips to climate-proof your family’s health amid wildfire smoke:
· Check the Air Quality Index to see whether you need to limit your time outdoors.
· If conditions are bad, keep your windows and doors closed and use the air conditioner! Make sure your filter is clean, and close the fresh-air intake to prevent unwanted smoke from entering.
· If you must go outside, a filtering respirator mask can offer protection. An ‘N95’ mask will offer some protection, but make sure to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Respirator Fact Sheet.
· Change your clothes if you’ve been outside. Rinse out red, irritated eyes, and stay hydrated!