If you've lived in California long enough, you know that high and dry
temperatures and gusting Santa Anas don't just mean another hot day--they're
a sign of wildfire weather. It's not unusual to watch local news coverage
of fires blazing through acres of vegetation, or drive down the freeway
and see smoke rising in the distance from a blaze, but that doesn't
mean you should be complacent about wildfire preparedness. In the first
half of 2016, there have been more than 2,000 fires in the state, and
more are sure to come.
"Wildfires are a fact of life in California, and like any natural
disaster, they can be devastating," says
James DeCock, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
Mission Heritage Medical Group. "Not only are homes, businesses and open spaces at risk during a
fire, but so is your health if you live near an active blaze. That's
why it's so important to be prepared in case of fire, as well as know
what to do during a wildfire-triggered emergency." Among Dr. DeCock's
Have an emergency kit ready to go. "This is good common sense for any kind of natural disaster,"
Dr. DeCock says. "For wildfires, your kit should be easily transportable--unlike
an earthquake where you may be stuck at home, you can be called to evacuate
in case of fire. Put your emergency supplies in a backpack that's
not too heavy to carry, or a small, wheeled bag or cart." See the
checklist below for what to pack.
Draw up an evacuation plan. Have more than one safety route leading out of your neighborhood or where
you work in case you need to get out quickly. If members of your family
are separated, arrange a meeting spot at a location out of the danger
zone of the fire, such as a relative's home. "You'll want
to get out of harm's way quickly, of course, but you also want to
minimize the time you spend in a smoke-filled environment," Dr. DeCock
says. "Especially if you are pregnant or have young children, you'll
want to get out sooner rather than later."
Keep lines of communication clear. In case you are separated from family members, it's vital to have
a means of connecting with them to make sure they are OK. "Instead
of having everyone try to call each other, set up a contact person who
doesn't live in the area--he or she can be the point person everyone
checks in with when they are safely evacuated, or if they are being treated
for injury at a hospital. Your contact person's number and email address
should be entered into every family member's cell phone and included
with the emergency kit."
Stay alert. You'll want to be in the loop if an evacuation is called for your
area. "Counties and cities usually have programs where you sign up
for alerts via text, phone or email in case of emergencies, as well as
apps that cover many aspects of emergency preparedness," Dr. DeCock
says. For helpful links, see the box at the end of the story.
DURING A FIRE
Treat any burns. "In case you or a loved one suffers a minor burn during a fire,
use the first-aid tools in your emergency kit. Soak the area with water
for five minutes before applying the cream or ointment and loosely applying
the gauze," Dr. DeCock says. "Call 911 as you'll also want
to get medical attention as soon as possible."
Don't let smoke get in your eyes or lungs. It's easy to get sick from inhaling wildfire smoke. "The gases
and particulate matter in the smoke can irritate your eyes, sinuses and
throat, and cause headaches, difficulty breathing and a runny nose,"
Dr. DeCock says. "People with chronic lung and heart conditions,
seniors and pregnant women can also be adversely affected by wildfire
smoke." Dr. DeCock adds that if your air quality is diminished by
a wildfire in the area, it's best to stay inside as much as possible
with the windows shut (if you don't have air conditioning, go someplace
cooler where you won't overheat). "Don't rely on a paper
face mask to give you proper ventilation, as they don't screen out
particles in the smoky air," Dr. DeCock says. "The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention state that surgical-grade N-95 masks are
the only ones that can offer some protection from wildfire smoke."
Keep your hands clean. If you do have to vacate your home because of a wildfire, ideally your
evacuation location will have running water. "If it does, make sure
to avoid sickness by washing your hands with soap and water," Dr.
DeCock says. "If water isn't available, use the alcohol-based
hand sanitizer from your emergency kit."
Learn more about
Mission Heritage Medical Group. Learn more about
EMERGENCY KIT CHECKLIST
- First-aid supplies, including burn treatment items such as clean water,
ointments and gauze bandages
- Nonperishable food and water (each person in your family should have three
days' worth of rations)
- Prescription medication and eyeglasses
- Packs of sanitary wipes or a bottle of antibacterial hand wash
- Copies of personal records, such as driver's licenses, birth certificates
and health insurance documentation.
Links for emergency alerts:
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.