Summer is prime time for fire risks, but that’s especially true this year. In fact, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry, COVID-19 may be adding to the people-related risks of fires. The added numbers are startling—a jump from 70% of fires caused by humans in 2019 to 90% in 2020. OPB attributes the jump to growth in the number of people choosing to visit natural settings during COVID-19.
Unfortunately, residents in areas prone to wildfires are likely to have a tougher time protecting themselves, especially from the dangers of smoke inhalation, during the virus. Why? Largely because of a nationwide shortage of 95 masks ( Sierra Club).
Smoke Inhalation Can Raise Virus Risk
According to the CDC, wildfire smoke harms us in many ways—it can hurt our eyes, cause respiratory system irritation and even make chronic heart and lung diseases worse. The symptoms of breathing in smoke include coughing, trouble breathing, wheezing and shortness of breath, tiredness and more—very similar to the symptoms associated with COVID-19. In fact, exposure to smoke can put people at greater risk for being impacted by the virus.
“When your immune system is overwhelmed by particles, it’s not going to do such a good job fighting other things, like viruses,” says doctor Sarah Henderson, senior environmental health scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (New York Times). Why? Because the smoke particles can “gunk up the hairlike cilia that clean our lungs, making it harder to clear out viruses."
Unfortunately, the wildfires are most prevalent in the western part of the U.S., states like California that are already hard hit by the virus.
How the 2020 Wildfires are Raging
As of August 16, 2020, almost 205,000 acres were estimated to have been burned in California, connected to 6000 separate fire incidents. According to CNBC, “at least 25% of California’s residents, or 11 million people, live in fire prone areas.”
People are the perpetrators of 95% of California’s wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. And, while arson may first come to mind as the likely cause, in reality many fires are started innocently enough—even by something as seemingly harmless as a spark from a car. Fires can spread very quickly and the smoke created by the fires can travel much further.
Even after the fire is over and the smoke appears to be gone, lingering risks remain. At-risk populations are particularly prone to impact. There are a wide range of protective devices to protect personal safety from wildfires ranging from full-face respirators like firefighters wear to portable air purifiers like Wynd offers which can help residents miles away from the fires themselves but still concerned about air quality. Air purifiers are small and portable, yet highly effective are keeping the air clean of even small particles that can irritate your lungs and cause coughing.
It’s important to note, that standard dust masks and other simple masks–even surgical masks—are generally not sufficient for filtering out smoke particles.
Here we offer a number of additional important tips for preparing for wildfire season.
Staying Safe During COVID-19 and Wildfire Season
Using an air purifier can be an important addition to the safety precautions you’re taking during this year's wildfire season. Wynd’s air purifiers, like the Wynd Plus, create a bubble of clean air around you, capturing 99% of particles, including aerosols and industrial pollution particulates. It’s an important tool in your personal arsenal for protection from both the affects of smoke from wildfires and potential infection from others during COVID-19. The Wynd Max generates 537 cubic meters of air per hour, enough to clean a 1200 square foot space in less than 30 minutes.
Clean air matters. Here at Wynd we're focused on bringing clean air to people, wherever they go.