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Emergencies & Your Health

Planning ahead to protect ourselves in a disaster, including people who are medically vulnerable.

Be Alert to Fire Danger   

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

Preparing for Wildfires    

The material on the other pages here - for making an emergency plan, on customizing the planand evacuating - are all crucially important when dealing with wildfires.   

Here are some additional things to consider:

Fires ARE Health Emergencies

Damage from fires reaches far beyond the active blaze zone. 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 - and then there are toxic fumes and chemicals from burning human-made structures, too.

The information from Washington State Dept. of Health is also available in Korean, Russian, Somali, Ukranian, as well as the languages linked below:

Measuring Air Quality

Unfortunately just smelling smoke isn't enough to tell whether breathing outside air is dangerous. Here are links to air quality tracking and advisory websites:

Different methods used to calculate air quality give us different numbers, and it can be confusing. This article helps to explain why - and suggests how to find the best resource for your location:

How to Protect Against Smoke in the Air

Stay indoors as much as possible to minimize exposure. Filter indoors air with a HEPA air filter or an air fan that has a HEPA filter over the intake.

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

Check the air quality frequently when there's a fire warning (don't just rely on sense of smell). Instead, use the air quality tracking links shown above to see when it is at a dangerous level.

Take precautions to protect your animals, too.


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

Protecting Outdoor Workers

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

- emergency response teams                - farm workers

- construction crews                             - landscapers and gardeners

- utility workers                                   - day laborers

- wildlife rescuers

Cal/OSHA's Emergency Standards are required whenever the air quality index (AQI)  at the worksite measures PM2.5 at 151 or higher.

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.

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. Even if incinerated, dangerous chemicals from building materials or from materials stored on the site are still present (and may be even more toxic). 

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-NC-SA 4.0. Linked contents are the responsibility of their creators or copyright holders.