The Devastating Truth of Natural Disasters and How to Protect Yourself During & After a Wildfire
This blog was provided by Parcil Safety.
In an ideal world, natural disasters wouldn’t occur. Unfortunately, we are seeing exponential growth in natural disasters across the US and abroad. In 2020, we had a record-setting 22 separate billion-dollar disaster events (https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/beyond-data/2021-us-billion-dollar-weather-and-climate-disasters-historical).
These events happen quickly and often times without warning, so it’s imperative to be prepared. The Parcil Safety team will be focusing on the aftermath of one kind of natural disaster, wildfires, why they are so dangerous, and how to stay protected during the cleanup.
1) What are wildfires and how are they formed?
Natural Disasters are wide and diverse. And each one provides their own potential chemical and particle hazards. Wildfires have been plaguing the United States for the past several years, predominantly on the west coast.
“A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that burns in the wildland vegetation, often in rural areas”
(https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/wildfires). Wildfires occur on most continents and in most environments. They can burn in forests, savannas, and grasslands. Controlled wildfires can be extremely beneficial to the survival of species and the “cleansing” of lands, but the aftermath of wildfires provide unique challenges that require protection, such as respirators, during clean up.
95% of wildfires in the state of California are started by people. Wild fires can start as ground fires (where organic matter-rich soil that produces sufficient amounts of oxygen can fuel the fire) or as surface fires (which occur from dead or dry vegetation above the ground). Three conditions must be present for a wildfire to burn.
2) Heat Source
Different kinds of plant materials can act as fuel for a wildfire, including grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves, and fallen pine needles. A heat source will bring the fuel to their flash point, evaporating the fuel into the air. Oxygen is the naturally occurring element needed for igniting and sustaining a fire. Once oxygen and burning fuel meet in open air, it generates a combustion from a chemical reaction between the fuel, heat source, and oxygen. Once the fire has started, it can quickly become out of control and spread, causing damage to surrounding wildlife and people.
2) Why are Wildfires so dangerous?
Although naturally occurring wildfires can be extremely beneficial to the environment, uncontrolled wildfires can be detrimental to both our planet and people.
The immediate impact of wildfire is the devastation of millions of acres of trees and scorching rich soil on the forest floor. This can create an even larger environmental impact as the forest floor soil is a great source of necessary carbon needed for our planet. The longer lasting impact actually comes from wildfires heating up our planet – one degree of the planet increasing forces forests to require 15 percent more precipitation in compensate for the increased dryness (https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/wildfires-how-they-form-and-why-theyre-so-dangerous).
The affects on people is even worse. 339,000 people are killed from wildfire smoke per year worldwide. Wildfire smoke also increases the number of asthmatic cases, emergency room visits and hospital visits. Smoke also generates particles and carbon monoxide that can leak into people’s lungs who live near the fire, causing long-lasting damage to the respiratory system and heart. It’s important to make sure when dealing with the residual affects of a wildfire, people take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from these affects.
3) Protecting Yourself During a Wildfire and During Cleanup
In the aftermath of wildfires, smoke particles fill the air and harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide are most likely present. The CDC recommends using a supplied air respirator during a fire where oxygen levels are below 19.5%. However, during clean up or in use as an escape respirator during a wildfire, an APR (air purifying respirator) can provide the proper protection, as long as you perform a proper seal test and don the appropriate filter. When a fire is present, it is also recommended to have fire resistance clothing, such as a fire escape cloak, with fiberglass materials to withstand the heat as well as silicone coating so it can be worn comfortably.
Parcil Safety recommends using a full face respirator to protect your nose, mouth and eyes from smoke particles and chemicals, and filter rated for carbon monoxide filtration (carbon activated filter), with a 99.97% filtration rating.
Learn more about Parcil Safety and our respirator products in the below video: