Wildfires and pandemics are both bad on their own, but are especially bad when combined. How do you shelter from a wildfire while social distancing? Can wildfires be controlled if firefighters are exposed to COVID-19? How can you breathe safely with a coronavirus PPE shortage?
If you live in a wildfire-prone area, plan ahead. Make kits full of safety supply essentials for both staying in place and evacuating, and look into places to shelter in advance: you don’t want to put a high-risk family member in danger, find that hotels are closed, or have to make emergency arrangements for your pet in the moment. Here are some simple ways to protect yourself during a wildfire and a pandemic.
Understand Your Risk
Reach out to your government emergency management to understand your wildfire risk. For COVID-19 safety and information, get resources from your local health departments. COVID-19 and wildfires can cause related health issues: wildfire smoke can irritate and inflame lungs, alter immune function, and increase your risk of respiratory infections and complications from infections like COVID-19. People with chronic illnesses or suppressed immune systems, people younger than 18 or older than 65, pregnant people, outdoor workers, and people recovering from COVID-19 are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID and wildfire smoke alike.
Prevent Wildfires and COVID
Keep non-essential outings to a minimum, and wear a cloth mask and socially distance whenever you’re in public. Clean and disinfect frequently touched items and surfaces daily, and if you’re cleaning up after a fire wear rubber gloves and a mask. Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Manage the vegetation around your home to decrease a wildfire’s reach, and use as many fire-resistant materials as possible in its construction. Use outdoor equipment properly and avoid putting anything warm on dry grass or brush. Dispose of cigarettes, charcoal briquettes, ashes, and burned debris properly. Extinguish fires and ashes before you leave an area, and keep an extinguisher or hose nearby. Store combustible materials in approved containers and away from the house.
Protect Your Lungs
Choose a room you can close off from outside air and set up a portable air cleaner or filter to keep it smoke-free. When you’re going outside, a cloth mask won’t protect you from smoke inhalation: PK Safety has a range of respirators and lung protection available. An N95 would be the minimum offered by an employer to anyone working on a job site where smoke inhalation is a risk. It filters out 95% of small particles, but not all of them, and you’ll still be able to smell smoke. A P100 filter in a respirator offers more protection, but not from smoke odors. The 2097 has a layer of charcoal that absorbs some, but not all, odors. The 60926 combo cartridge has good protection from smoke and odors, but for the average consumer is expensive, heavy, and poses breathing resistance challenges.
Avoid activities that cause indoor air pollution. If you have central air, use high-efficiency filters. Fresh air intake systems can be set to recirculate mode, or you can close the outdoor intake damper. Limit outdoor activities when it’s smoky outside, or choose lower-intensity activities. When driving, keep your windows rolled up and close the air vents. Don’t put wet clothing or bandanas over your mouth or nose, which can cause more damage to your airways. Do wet down debris after a fire to avoid inhaling dust and keep another fire from igniting.
Listen to the Experts
If you receive evacuation instructions from officials, follow them immediately to avoid getting caught in fire, smoke, and traffic. Stay informed about wildfire conditions and be prepared to make a decision without official instructions. Follow your local health regulations for greater COVID safety during evacuations. Don’t return to your home until after fire officials say it’s safe.
PK Safety is working to keep our customers and our workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic while delivering the service you expect. For more information on how to stay safe during a wildfire or any other safety concern, contact a safety expert online or by calling 800.829.9580.
Learn more about what to look for in a respirator, so you can better protect your employees during an active wildfire.