If you live in Colorado, take a glance out your window. There’s a strong chance you’ll see and smell the smoke coming from multiple large wildfires burning currently in the state. While the fires have closed multiple highways, including I-70, the smoke they’re producing is also a serious concern, especially for those with existing health conditions. Here’s what you should know to protect yourself from wildfire smoke in Colorado.
What is Wildfire Smoke & Why Is It Dangerous?
Wildfire smoke isn’t significantly different from the smoke you deal with while sitting around a campfire. The biggest difference is quantity – you can avoid campfire smoke by moving several feed. Wildfires, especially large ones, produce massive quantities of smoke, which may contain harmful chemicals from burning structures. The biggest concern is particulate matter – small chemicals that are tiny enough to be inhaled. They’re responsible for a number of ailments, and have short and long term health impacts. Here are just a few concerns:
- Coughing, Wheezing and Shortness of Breath
- Irritation of the Eyes or Sinuses
- Headaches, Chest Pain and Fatigue
- Asthma Attacks and Trouble Breathing Normally
Additional long-term risks are less understood but include lung cancer, asthma, heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. The less particulates you inhale over time, the better.
Who is Most At-Risk for Wildfire Smoke Health Issues?
Not everyone faces the same risk from wildfire smoke. According to the CDC, older adults, pregnant women, children, and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions should take extra precaution when wildfire smoke is in their area. However it’s important to recognize that even young, healthy individuals can get sick from wildfire smoke depending on the situation, and we all face long-term impacts. Here’s a few suggestions to limit your exposure to these risks.
How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke in Colorado: A Few Suggestions
There are 8 CDC best practices you can use to help reduce your exposure:
- Check Air Quality Reports if you live in Colorado. Watch for public advisories and other information. Take action accordingly.
- Pay attention to visibility guides if they are available. Not all communities have these but they are common in the Front Range.
- If you are told to stay indoors, stay indoors and keep your indoor air as clean as possible. Run an A/C with the fresh-air intake off, or seek other shelter if it’s too hot to remain where you are with the windows closed.
- Use an air filter. Especially if you have a pre-existing condition, an a freestanding type filter will help screen your indoor air for particulate matter.
- Don’t add to the pollution. Don’t light any candles or fires, and don’t vaccum as this stirs up dust. Do not to smoke indoors as this adds more smoke and pollution to the air.
- Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease or cardiovascular disease. If your symptoms worse, contact your physician.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection. They will not protect you from particulate matter and other small chemicals.
- Avoid smoke exposure during outdoor recreation. Check reports before you hike, bike, or camp in the mountains to avoid areas near major wildfires. This also helps ensure you don’t strain backcountry resources if your symptoms worsen in the backcountry.
Do Your Part to Prevent Wildfires in the First Place.
The best way to keep the air free of wildfire smoke is to prevent the fires in in the first place. Take a moment to review Leave No Trace Ethics so we all know how to do our part to prevent wildfires. We don’t yet know how these fires yet started, but we do know that the vast majority of major Colorado wildfires over the past decade were man-made. Thanks for doing your part!
How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke in Colorado: A Review
Knowledge is power – take time to check air quality reports so you know whether you are at risk, or if you plan to head into the mountains. Follow the 8 CDC guidelines listed above if the air quality is ranked unhealthy. Most important of all, follow proper Leave No Trace outdoor ethics so we do our part in preventing wildfires. Thanks in advance!
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About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.