Smoke from the “Wallow Fire,” a wildfire which has burned more than 200,000 acres in northern Arizona is pushing air quality to unhealthy levels as far across the United States as Georgia (and Alabama). Firefighters are literally working around the clock to try and get the Wallow wildfire under control, which is currently classified as zero percent contained. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer declared the Wallow Fire situation a “state of emergency” (releasing funds to pay for emergency responses and recovery expenses), the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued its largest smoke health advisory of the season on Monday, and airplanes are having to be diverted from Albuquerque, New Mexico all due to heavy smoke from the uncontrolled wildfire.
There are obvious health concerns which result from wildfire smoke, but many people assume they have to be in the direct vicinity of the fire before they need to worry about their own health. The smoke billowing across the country carries harmful particles, which can often cover entire neighborhoods but in this case is covering entire metro areas. According to the CDPHE, if there is less than 5 miles visibility in your area then the smoke has reached “unhealthy levels.”
Health Concerns from Wildfire Smoke
Respiratory issues are one of the biggest health concerns in conjunction with smoke from wildfires. You may feel a variety of symptoms from smoke inhalation including coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing (or shortness of breath), asthma, and more.
Christopher Dann, public information officer with the CDPHE’s Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, identified people who are “elderly, very young, or those with heart disease or respiratory illnesses” as being most at-risk for smoke related health problems; “A little bit of pollution goes a longer way with those folks,” Dann said (according to KUSA-TV, 9NEWS in Colorado).
Best Ways to Protect Against Harmful Smoke Particles
One of the best things you can do to help protect yourself (and your loved ones) from inhaling the wildfire smoke which has blown into your area is to restrict your exposure to smoke conditions. Limit your outdoor activities and stay indoors as much as possible; if the smoke is making an especially at-risk individual sick consider temporarily relocating them. In the western United States, swamp coolers are an often used alternative to air conditioning but people in smoke infected areas should avoid using swamp coolers, which will pull the harmful air particles into your indoor living space. Pay attention to the smoke-related alerts in your community! The New Mexico Department of Health recommends not using anything that burns (i.e. candles, gas stoves, fireplaces, etc.) when outdoor smoke levels are high (KRQE News 13).
You may have seen photos of people being evacuated from areas in the direct path of the Wallow Fire wearing bandanas over the lower part of the faces, but you can protect your health from the harmful smoke particles more effectively by wearing face masks (many of which are very affordable and easy to use). Face masks are particularly important for individuals who are already at higher risk for health problems associated with smoke particles inhalation (i.e. the elderly, children, those with respiratory illnesses, etc.).
Keep Up-to-Date on the Wallow Fire News and Health Advisories
You don’t need to be obsessively glued to CNN, but you do want to pay attention to the status of the Wallow fire, and current health advisories (especially in your own community). Check your state’s department of health, and you can find current information on the Wallow Fire at the Arizona Emergency Information Network website.
Our thoughts go out to all people affected by the Wallow fire, and especially to those firefighters who are putting their own lives in harms way to contain this wildfire. ActiveForever will be offering updates on the Wallow fire via Twitter; if you don’t already follow us you can join us on Twitter @ActiveForever.