Protecting Your Lungs From Wildfire Smoke

Posted by Adam Moxon on

Protecting Your Lungs From Wildfire Smoke

Wildfires and forest fires sadly rage every summer, and with the amount of smoke they produce, they have the propensity to significantly hinder people’s activities and health.

The smoke from wildfires have led to extreme levels of air pollution. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon–wildfires are breaking out and erupting all around the world at an even pronounced rate than ever before, burning up tens of thousands of acres of land. Some fires are so intense that even the brave and noble efforts from firefighters frustrate all efforts made and not only burn up forests, but also homes and businesses. 

Experts say that face masks provide benefits, if you use the right one correctly. But first, let’s dive into some background information on wildfires you should know.

What is a Wildfire?

Wildfires are unplanned and unwanted fires, including lightning-caused fires, unauthorized human-caused fires, and prescribed fire projects that have gotten out of control and escaped the controlled environment.

Wildfire Responsibilities

Each state is responsible for responding to wildfires that begin on state, local or private land. The federal government is responsible for responding to wildfires that begin on federal lands. The Forest Service carries out wildfire management and response across the 193 million acres of National Forest System. The Department of the Interior manages wildfire response for more than 400 million acres of national parks, wildlife refuges, preserves, public lands and Indian reservations.

How to Protect Yourself from Forest Fires

If you are worried about the damaging effects from wildfire smoke and wonder when you should wear a face mask to protect yourself, the answer is simple…

…if you can see or smell smoke, you need to take the steps to protect yourself and your lungs.

Easily put, if there is enough smoke that you can see or smell, then it’s already at a dangerous level.

Use a Carbon Activated Filter for Wildfire Protection

The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. Smoke particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter are known as fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems and exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.

You will need to use an anti pollution face mask with a carbon activated filter. These masks provide protection from all the microscopic particles in smoke that can damage your lungs. 

What is a carbon activated filter? The terms charcoal and carbon are interchangeable and refer to the remnants of incomplete combustion. Picture the burnt piece of wood that is charred black and leftover after a fire. The black char that remains is mostly carbon. The charcoal is treated in an industrial process with oxygen to release all its volatile compounds, contaminants and impurities and leaves behind only carbon. This process opens up millions of tiny pores between the carbon atoms.

Reduce Risks By Staying Indoors

If you start to have symptoms related to wildfire smoke, then it is highly recommended that you stay inside and seek out a building with filtered air, like a place that has a good HVAC system.

  1. If smoke, haze or ash does make its way indoors, if possible, run an air conditioner to try to keep the worst of the pollution out. Air filters can help to clean out the air if you cannot use an air conditioner.

  1. As a last resort, you can go to a newer building, such as a mall or a movie theater, to stay out of the polluted air.

  1. Lastly, good hydration is always very important. Drink lots of water to ensure you stay hydrated, especially in the summer heat.

It is also wise to avoid activities that further pollute the indoor air. Avoid burning candles, using a fireplace, or even vacuuming (unless you own a high-performance HEPA vacuum cleaner). All of these can become additional sources of indoor air pollutants.

Whose Health Is at Risk from Wildfire Smoke?

Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, but people with lung conditions are at the highest risk of developing symptoms. Those with asthma and COPD have to be extremely vigilant to not expose themselves to smoke. Children, the elderly, and pregnant women are especially at risk.

Breathing in smoke can affect you right away, causing:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Asthma attacks
  • Stinging of eyes
  • Scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heartbeat

Be extremely careful about heavy smoke exposure!

Wildfire Smoke Travels Farther Than You Think

Wildfire smoke can drift thousands of miles. It affects the air quality far from the wildfire itself, thus increasing health risks. Satellites have tracked movements of fires and dispersal of smoke plumes to show wildfire smoke drifting at very high altitudes and eventually reaching distant urban centres. Wildfire smoke can interact with other pollutants in city areas to create elevated ozone levels far from the fire source.

Wildfire Statistics 

Most wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans…as many as 90 percent! Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, downed power lines, the burning of garbage or yard/lane refuse, negligently discarding cigarettes, and intentional acts of arson.

According to Verisk’s 2019 Wildfire Risk Analysis, 4.5 million United States homes were identified at high or extreme risk of wildfire.

So far in 2020, there have been 27,423 wildfires with 1.7 million acres burned. Here are some quick stats comparing the past five years:

2019: 50,477 wildfires with 4.7 million acres burned

2018: 58,083 wildfires with 8.8 million acres burned

2017: 71,499 wildfires with 10 million acres burned

2016: 65,575 wildfires with 5.4 million acres burned

2015: 68, 278 wildfires with 10.1 million acres burned

Get Wildfire Smoke Protection Using Masks

Wildfire smoke and ash can irritate your eyes, nose, throat and lungs. This can make you cough, wheeze and make it hard to breathe. By using a Debrief Me® anti pollution face mask with a carbon activated filter that properly covers your nose and mouth and fits tightly to your face, you can filter out harsh smoke particles before you breathe them in. 

As summer is heating up, unfortunately the forest fires will only grow in number and intensity. Be prepared and get your anti pollution mask now!