This year, rain and snow have been well below average. As of March of 2021 the state’s network of reservoirs are holding less water than usual . State Drought Monitor, a federal government monitoring service, shows that drought conditions have enveloped 91% of California’s landmass and more than a third of the state is in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. Drought can lead to fires. So, as the fire and smoke season approaches, it is time to think about preparing for unhealthy conditions that we are now seeing as a new normal.
If you haven’t already, check this list of actions you might take to prepare for fire and smoke season:
- Prepare your yard and house to be better protected from fire.
- Plan to seal your house (usually windows & doors) from the smoky outdoors.
- Think about better air filters (for HVAC) and air purifiers (for specific household rooms).
- Learn about lung health before poor air quality conditions (find good masks).
Let’s talk about protecting your yard, your home, and sealing smoky air OUT.
Preparing Your Home and Yard
Most residents of the East Bay have no large or direct exposure to wildlands or forests. Still, we know that fires, with flying embers, can easily jump long distances, so we all need to think about our yard and our house. If the yard has dry and flammable plant material or the home has large expanses of wooden surfaces, or a flat roof, then you may need to think about control measures of these concerning material and areas.
There are methods for homeowners to prepare their homes to withstand ember attacks and minimize the likelihood of flames or surface fire touching the home or any attached structures. The National Fire Protection Association offers this fact sheet — “How to Prepare Your Home for Wildfire.” CalFire also offers information regarding defensible space around your home.
Sealing Your Home to Prevent Smoke and Poor Air Quality
Once fires have developed anywhere in Northern CA, the smoke will be in our atmosphere, and winds can bring smoke from very long distances to our neighborhood; an example being the huge fires of August 2020. Smoke outside of your home may be tolerable, but when it enters your home it will be challenging to intervene in its unhealthy effects. Older windows and spaces around doors often leak and allow outside air, inside. Replacing windows and doors isn’t something you can do quickly or cheaply, or perhaps at all if you are renting. You can seal leaks yourself with things like sealant caulk, weather stripping, and door sweeps. There are many DIY videos and articles available on the internet that demonstrate proper and safe sealing of windows and doors.
If you’re using a room air-conditioner amid fire smoke, make sure you change the settings to “recirculate” air, to not bring in smoky air from the outside. It is important that your filter is clean. If you have a window air conditioning unit, make sure it is properly sealed in the window and the filter is also clean. You may find that keeping only a few rooms of your home free from smoke with filtered air may be easier than to control every room in your house. If so, then decide which rooms you will mostly occupy, and close them off from the less-occupied rooms. Bedrooms will certainly need to be as smoke-free and livable as you can make them, but it may be tolerable to limit yourself to smaller spaces inside the house during the smoky periods we most likely will be dealing with in the future.
Power Outage Preparation
Since a power outage could occur during fire and smoky conditions, you might consider purchasing a portable charging system for your cell phone in order to stay in touch. There are a variety of high-capacity storage devices that can charge a smartphone several times without having to be simultaneously plugged in. An additional consideration can be some form of temporary electrical power (e.g. portable generator).
As summer arrives and the days get warmer, the chances of fire somewhere near us increases. It’s now time to consider the unhealthy situation that fires can bring us.
For more information, you can check out Alameda County Public Health Department’s Wildfire Smoke and Your Health FAQs.
For news and updates on CA fires, you can visit Wildfire Today.
This article was written by James Hosley of the Ecology Center Help Desk.