How wildfires affect your health and what you can do about it
Wildfires and the poor air quality that smoke causes may pose potential health threats to you and your family.
Although Arizona experiences wildfires each year, there is typically a spike between the end of April through July. During those months, and throughout the year, it is important to know the damage smoke can have on your health and how it can be prevented.
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While Arizona is not currently in its peak wildfire season, recent California wildfires have posed the concern of traveling smoke affecting Arizonians.
What exactly is smoke and how does it affect our bodies?
Smoke is a pollutant made up of gases and microscopic particles that can damage lung tissue and cause respiratory problems when inhaled deeply, according to meteorologist Matt Pace.
Wildfire smoke, in particular, can vary in its contents based on what is burning. But no matter what the particles are, the damage to your lungs can be just as detrimental.
“Air pollutants have been associated with increases in respiratory problems and diseases in children, including reduction of lung function and increased severity or frequency of asthma attacks. Air pollutants have also been associated with a number of other adverse health effects, including cancer and heart disease,” according to Caroline Oppleman, Communications Director at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).
Everyone should take precautions when possible, but particular groups may be more subject to adverse health effects.
Children, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system are advised to take extra precautions, as they may be more sensitive to the effects of inhaling smoke, said Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
What precautions can I take to make sure my family is safe?
Paying attention to local air quality reports and keeping up to date with smoke, fire or health warnings can make all the difference. Hourly air quality forecasts are available on weekdays and wildfire forecasts are available when a wildfire is located. Staying informed is the best way to make sure your loved ones are prepared.
You can also run your air conditioner with the fresh air intake closed and keep the filter clean to circulate the clean air. It is also recommended that you avoid burning anything indoors like fireplaces, gas stoves or candles, and avoid vacuuming, as it stirs up particles.
If it looks smokey outside and you are ever unsure, it’s best to stay on the safe side and just stay indoors.
“If you are smelling smoke, you are breathing smoke,” Oppleman said.
How can I help limit wildfires?
Although wildfires occur naturally, they can be limited through prevention. Making sure campfires are completely put out, and paying attention to fire restrictions that are set in place can help prevent unnatural wildfires.
You can also start in your own yard and just keep it clean and free of flammable materials.
It’s important “to create defensible space around [your] property and maintain it throughout the year. Defensible space can include, but not limited to, removing dead or dying vegetation, keeping the grass watered and mowed, (and) removing debris from rooftops and gutters,” Davila said
Most people are familiar with the stress associated with wildfires and the damage they can do to habitats and infrastructure, but it’s important to be aware of the effects wildfires can have on your individual health, even from a distance.
For more information and to view an air forecast for your area, visit Air Forecasting | ADEQ Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.