Wildfires can create dangerous conditions for people, pets and property. By following these steps before a wildfire threatens your home and family, you can reduce the health effects of wildfire smoke and decrease the risk of property damage from a wildfire.
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Wildfires in Oregon
Health and Safety Tips
What to do before a wildfire
If you live in an area that is prone to wildfires
- Be extremely careful with personal fires.
- Install and test smoke detectors on every floor of your home.
- Create a 30-foot “safety zone” around your home, which is as free of vegetation as possible.
- Create an additional 100-foot buffer zone with reduced vegetation.
- Remove any flammable materials within 30 feet of all buildings.
- Consider using fire resistant siding, roofing and building materials wherever possible.
- Create outdoor water storage using a pond, pool or well.
Recommendations for everyone
Recommendations for people with chronic diseases
- Have an adequate supply of medication (more than five days).
- If you have asthma, make sure you have a written asthma management plan. Read more about asthma and wildfires (pdf).
- If you have heart disease, check with your health care providers about precautions to take during smoke events. Do this before the fire season if you live in an area where wildfires are possible.
- If you plan to use a portable air cleaner, buy one that matches the room size specified by the manufacturer. Do this before a smoke emergency.
- Contact a health care provider if your condition worsens when you are exposed to smoke.
What to do when a wildfire threatens your property
- Evacuate: Evacuate your pets and all family members who are not essential to preparing the home. The young and elderly as well as anyone with medical or physical limitations should be evacuated immediately.
- Remove combustibles: Clear items that will burn - e.g., wood piles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills and tarp coverings - from around the house. Move these items outside of the space you can protect.
- Close or protect openings: Close outside attic, eaves and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains. Close all shutters, blinds or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat.
- Close inside doors and open fireplace damper: Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft. Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen.
- Shut off gas: Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source.
- Water: Connect garden hoses. Fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water for possible use during a fire.
- Pumps: If you have gas-powered pumps for water, make sure they are fueled and ready.
- Ladder: Place a ladder against the house in clear view.
- Car: Back your car into the driveway and roll up the windows.
- Garage doors: Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that doors can still be opened by hand if the power goes out. Close all garage doors.
- Valuables: Place valuable papers, mementos and anything you can’t live without inside the car in the garage, ready for quick departure. Any pets still with you should also be put in the car.
- When it’s time to leave
- Lights: Turn on outside lights and leave a light on in every room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke.
- Don’t lock up: Leave doors and windows closed but unlocked. It may be necessary for firefighters to gain quick entry into your home to fight a fire. The entire area will be isolated and patrolled by sheriff’s deputies or police.
Health threats 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. Read about how to reduce your exposure to smoke before and during a wildfire (pdf).
Know if you are at risk
- If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems from smoke.
- Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people.
- Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.
Limit your exposure to smoke
- Pay attention to local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Find out if your community provides reports about the Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality Index (AQI). Also pay attention to public health messages about taking additional safety measures.
- Refer to visibility guides if they are available. Not every community has a monitor that measures the amount of particles that are in the air. In the western part of the United States, some communities have guidelines to help people estimate the Air Quality Index (AQI) based on how far they can see.
- If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
- Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
- Follow your doctor's advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. For more information about effective masks, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Returning Home After a Fire
The U.S. Fire Administration provides practical tips on returning home after a fire.