This year, the Western United States has been charred by several wildfires, many still burning. Droughts, less spring snowpack, and higher summer temperatures are the main causes of these fires. Firefighters from all over the United States have helped in the battles in these eleven states: Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona.
When wildfire threatens, you won’t have time to shop or search for supplies. If ordered to evacuate, assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffle bags, or trash containers. Include:
- Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Assemble a smaller version of your kit to keep in the trunk of your car.
- A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won’t spoil.
- One change of clothing and footwear per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.
- A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications.
- Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries.
- An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash, or traveler’s checks.
- Sanitation supplies.
- Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members.
- An extra pair of eye-glasses.
- Pet food. Make arrangements to get your pets to a shelter, if possible.
Health Threat From Wildfire Smoke
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms, caused by smoke:
- Stinging eyes
- A scratchy throat
- Irritated sinuses
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- A runny nose
- Asthma exacerbations
Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways:
- Inability to breathe normally
- Cough with or without mucus
- Chest discomfort
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might worsen your symptoms. People with heart disease might experience—
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
In cases such as this, you should contact your physician as soon as possible.
Wildland Fires: Fire-Adapted Communities
How the Fire Service, local officials, and the public can work together to withstand the devastating effects of a wildland fire. They are called grass fires, forest fires, wildland fires, or by a variety of names. Yet, no matter the name, they pose an evolving threat to lives and property in an increasing number of communities across the United States.
Homes near natural areas, the wildland/urban interface (WUI), are beautiful places to live. These pristine environments add to the quality of life of residents and are valued by community leaders seeking to develop new areas of opportunity and local tax revenue, but these areas are not without risk. It is up to each home owner to build their home with the right kind of landscaping, away from the house, and have a water supply available to wet down the home and surrounding area, in order to protect it.
Because fires are a part of the natural ecology, living adjacent to the wilderness means living with a constant threat of fires. Fire, by nature, is an unpredictable and often uncontrollable force. Firefighters will always give their best effort, but with wind and weather changes, it may be a puzzle to outguess the fire.
The concept of fire-adapted communities (FACs) holds that, with proper community-wide preparation, human populations and infrastructure can withstand the devastating effects of a wildland fire, reducing loss of life and property. This goal depends on strong and collaborative partnerships between agencies and the public at the State, Federal, and local levels, with each accepting responsibility for their part.
Your Role in Fire-Adapted Communities frames the FAC concept and current efforts to define its scope, explain the roles that groups can adopt to improve their fire safety, and provide leadership for future steps. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) believes that by reviewing the roles and responsibilities each group can adopt now, communities will become better prepared to realize the FAC goal in the future.
Sources: U.S.F.A.; FEMA