The recent Texas and Oklahoma fires and their smoke created several health dangers, including serious respiratory ailments.  Smoke from wildfires contains a mixture of fine particles and gases from burning trees and plant materials.  Smoke irritates eyes, the respiratory system, and can aggravate heart and lung disease.

Protective actions are:

  • Limit exposure to smoke,
  • Pay attention to air quality reports,
  • Consult your physician if you have asthma or lung disease.

Other health problems include: coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, runny nose, and stinging eyes.  At risk are older persons, especially those with heart and lung problems, and children, who breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, and are outdoors more frequently.

It is advised that you do not depend on the paper dust masks commonly found at hardware stores, which are designed to trap large particles.  Particulate respirators (N95) are “air purifying respirators” because they clean particles out the air as you breathe, and offer more protection, if properly worn.
Chemical cartridge/gas mask respirator, powered air purifying and self-controlled breathing apparatus are more sophisticated types of respirators.  SCBA is the respirator used by most firefighters, which use their own air tank to supply fresh air.

If you plan to build/remodel your home located in a wild land area, be aware there is a very real threat of wildfires.  Protecting your home is your responsibility.  You need to know the fire resistance of your home, topography of your property, and nearby vegetation.  FEMA suggests that you consult your local fire department, emergency management office, forestry service for information about fire laws, building codes and protective measures.  You should be familiar with these codes and weed abatement ordinances for structures built near wooded surroundings.

Everyone living in these areas should know what their community’s ability to respond to wildfires will be, and plan several escape routes in case roads become blocked.  Every person should be ready at all times to evacuate in an emergency.

Source: US Dept of Health & Human Services