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Emergencies & Your Health: Wildfires

Be Warned of Fire Danger!

For up-to-date information on wildfires across California, see:

 

For explanation of red flag & fire weather warnings, and how to avoid sparking wildfires, see:

Fire Emergencies ARE Health Emergencies

Fires reach out far beyond the active blaze zone to cause damage. Smoke plumes can travel long distances in the air, and injure all breathing organisms. Tiny particles in smoke, odorless carbon monoxide, and extreme heat are all dangerous.

What Can We Do About Smoke in the Air?

Check the air quality frequently when there's a fire warning (don't just rely on sense of smell).

Use the air quality tracking links in the How Bad if the Air Quality? box on this other page to check whether your air is currently at a dangerous level.

Stay indoors as much as possible, and filter indoors air.

Wear a mask that is rated N-95 or higher (rated to filter PM2.5 or smaller) when outside. Tiny combustion particles (as small as 2.5 microns or less) spread by smoke are particularly dangerous - and unfortunately, the masks we wear to avoid spreading the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus generally won't protect against such small particles.

 

Take precautions to protect your animals, too.

Protecting Outdoor Workers

Both state and federal government agencies have guidance to protect people who work outdoors, including:

  • emergency response teams
  • farm workers
  • landscapers and gardeners
  • construction crews
  • utility workers
  • wildlife rescue
  • day laborers

farm workers in smoky air, photo from CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) @CAUSE805

photo: CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) @CAUSE805

Cal/OSHA's Emergency Standards are required whenever the air quality index (AQI)  at the worksite measures PM2.5 at 151 or higher. And no one except emergency response teams should be working in an evacuation zone.

Cal/OSHA's Contact Us webpage has phone numbers and a pop-up chat function for questions about working in COVID-19, extreme heat, wildfires, etc., in English and in Spanish.

Wildfire preparedness

The material on the other pages in this guide for making an emergency plan and on evacuating are all crucially important when dealing with wildfires. Here are some additional things to consider:

Returning home after a fire

Once emergency response teams allow people to return after a fire, there still may be hazards as well as a lot of clean up work ahead. Water supply or electrical power may be unavailable for awhile; air quality may still be unhealthy.

Continue to follow notification and advice from your local office of emergency services.

The text on this page is copyright PlaneTree Health Library, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA. Linked contents are the responsibility of their creators / copyright holders.