MENDOCINO Co., 8/8/18 — The Mendocino Complex fires are continuing to burn, and that means smokey skies and poor air quality for most of our region. Smoke in the air can cause difficulty breathing and other respiratory problems — so it's important to consider your health and that of your loved ones, especially the young ones, elderly, and those with medical issues, when engaging in outdoor activities in areas impacted by the fires.
Local health departments have recommended using N-95 masks to protect yourself against the impacts of smoke. These masks are available for free at the inland Mendocino County public libraries, in Ukiah, Willits, and Covelo, during operating hours. Masks are also available at the Lakeport City Hall and Lakeport Police Department near the Kmart on South Main Street. Additional free masks are available at senior centers and evacuation shelters throughout Lake and Mendocino counties. More than 2000 free masks have already been distributed throughout Lake County alone.
Here's more tips about taking care of yourself after wildfire smoke inhalation from the Center for Disease Control. A press release from Mendocino County including advice about air quality protection is included below.
You can check the current air quality for Mendocino at the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District's website and sign up for notifications at here. You can also check air quality at the Environmental Protection Agency's site, which also has forecasts. The National Weather Service also includes an air quality forecast on its website.
Local public health officials have also warned to take caution when cleaning up ash, which could be hazardous to breathe or touch with bare skin. You can read more information about cleaning up ash here.
Go here or more info about resources for people impacted by the fires, or how to help.
Here's more tips from the Mendocino County Public Health department:
When the Mendocino Air Quality Management District advises that the air quality is“unhealthy” or “hazardous:”
A primary concern is that ‘high-risk groups” --people over 65, under 12, pregnant women, and those people with pre-existing lung disease (such as asthma, bronchitis, COPD) or heart problems-- are at particular risk from breathing this air and should take extra precautions. Leave the smoky area, if possible, or at least stay indoors and limit physical activity.
- People with pre-existing illnesses should carefully adhere to their medical treatment plans and maintain at least a five-day supply of prescribed medications.
- Clearly, everyone is a risk when the air quality is in the “unhealthy” or “hazardous” range. If it is not possible to leave the area where smoke is present, recommendations are to limit outdoor activity and unnecessary physical exertion.
- Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases, and fine particles that can harm health. The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles, which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
- Wearing a protective mask may offer some protection. N-95 masks can reduce contact with some of the harmful particulate matter, but they also increase the work of breathing and they don’t keep the smoke out, so they are not terribly effective as a general protective measure. It is much better to avoid the smoky air, if possible.
o N95 masks are very useful during the cleanup phase when the ash is a big issue.o If you would like N95 masks, they can be obtained for free at the libraries, the senior centers, and the shelters.
o If you have trouble locating masks and you would like them, contact us at Public Health.
o Dust masks (different from N95) are not protective and really should not be used.
- If you have air conditioning, turn it to interior recirculation or turn off and use fans. This prevents the intake of the outside, smoky air. Avoid vacuuming (which stirs up the dust) or increasing smoke in the house (for example burning candles or incense, or smoking cigarettes).
- There are no indications that any permanent problems such as cancer will develop due to short term exposure to smoke such as this. Since the air problems currently are almost exclusively from woodsmoke, there are no real industrial contaminants that might lead to other long-term problems.
- If you, or someone with you, begins to experience significant symptoms, such as dizziness, shortness of breath, or chest discomfort, get them out of the smoke and have them rest. If symptoms continue, seek medical attention.
- Getting enough rest and drinking plenty of fluids may be helpful.