Idaho is on fire.
For Idahoans, that registers as reality, not hyperbole. If you've experienced a difference in your health since the belated onset of Idaho's wildland fire season, smoke might be the culprit. Read on for information about the origins of the smoke, how it could be impacting your health, and methods for protecting yourself from it.
On September 9, Wildfire Today reported 35 uncontained wildfires were incinerating their way through the United States. Of the 35, seven were wreaking havoc on Central Idaho. Less than a week later on September 12, East Idaho News reported Idaho's wildfire count had increased to more than a dozen. Yesterday, September 13, the Idaho Capital Sun reported more than 270,000 acres of land have burned at this point. In an interview with Marshall Thompson from the U.S. Forest Service, Thompson attributes the late onset of the wildland fire season to Idaho's wet spring. The series of summer scorchers and high winds that followed, he said, was the progenitor of the 2022 fires.
According to the National Wildland Fire Preparedness Levels, the Idaho infernos were the catalyst that bumped the National Preparedness Level to four out of five. For context, a level one wildfire is considered minimal, requiring just a small number of wildland firefighters to contain it. Level five, one step above the nation's current level, is described as the highest and most threatening level of wildfire activity.
Cedars-Sinai is a non-profit hospital and academic healthcare organization based in Southern California. In their blog published on August 30, Cedars-Sinai staff writers elaborated on the effects of wildfire smoke on human health. The symptoms described below were sourced from that blog.
Symptoms of Wildfire Smoke Inhalation
- Throat irritation
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Eye sensitivity
Sierra Nevada Ear, Nose & Throat specializes in the clinical and surgical care of the ear, nose, and throat. Their advice on how to protect yourself from the wildfire smoke of 2017 remains relevant today. In addition to the symptoms listed above, the ear, nose, and throat specialists say headaches, asthma attacks, lung irritation, irregular heartbeat, and fatigue are common as well. Listed below are their recommendations for coping with and decreasing the health risks associated with wildfire smoke.
5 Tips for Decreasing Health Risks Posed By Smoke Inhalation
- Reference the Air Quality Index. The nation's chief resource for daily air quality, the Air Quality Index indicates how clean or polluted a region's air is. Before igniting outdoor flames during wildland fire season, visit the Idaho Air Quality Index.
- Stay Inside. Even the healthiest people can experience respiratory strain from excessive wildfire smoke. Avoid lung irritation and other unpleasant symptoms by remaining indoors as much as possible.
- Protect Your Indoor Air. Doors and windows should remain closed as much as possible. To keep fresh air circulating throughout your home, replace your HVAC air filters frequently, clean your AC filter frequently and keep its fresh-air intake closed. Refrain from lighting candles, wood-burning fireplaces, and gas-burning stoves. Unless it's necessary, avoid vacuuming. It stirs up the smokey particles within your home!
- Change Your Clothes. Change your clothing as soon as you arrive home after being in a smokey atmosphere. Third-hand smoke particles on your garments can trigger smoke inhalation symptoms. A best-practice is to wash your smokey clothes as soon as possible.
- N95 Masks & Respirators. Basic face masks lack the capacity to prevent tiny smoke particles from entering your passage ways. You can buy EPA-recommended N95 masks at your local drug store. Before using a respirator, consult with your physician.
One More Thing
As a proud fireman's daughter, I want to thank our wildland firefighters for their service to our nation. Their bravery is absolutely singular, and the sacrifices they make to protect our communities does not go unnoticed. To contribute to the Idaho Wildland Firefighters Foundation, Where Compassion Spreads Like Wildfire, click here.
For more information on Idaho's wildland fires and how to protect yourself from smoke, visit the various resources linked within the article. Each source's link was last verified on September 14.