Smoke gets in your eyes...and your nose, trachea and lungs
Last week when evacuations took place in a number of places around Carbon County, and other possible evacuations were mentioned, people conjured up in their minds the visions they had seen on television of houses burning in fires such as the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs, Colo.
However, for the most part the evacuations, and the rumors of others, were because of the smoke that the fire was producing in the mountains above Carbon County. At times the smoke became so strong in the last week that some thought one could cut the air with a knife.
The smoke in the air can be harmful, particularly to those with existing respiratory problems. But to get the gist of why those evacuations took place, it is good to know what the smoke is made of and how it affects people.
First wildfire smoke is is made up small particles, gases and water vapor. Water vapor makes up the majority of smoke. The remainder includes carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, irritant volatile organic compounds, air toxics and very small particles. In wildland fires more burns than just the trees, grasses and shrubs that may be in the way. Even if there are no structures burned, there are materials left by behind by man that can give off toxic gases.
The smoke from a wildfire can have harmful consequences. Those that are healthy are usually are not at a major risk from the smoke. But there are people who are at risk, including people with heart or lung diseases, such as congestive heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma. Children and the elderly also are more susceptible to smoke.
One of the biggest dangers of smoke comes from particulate matter - solid particles and liquid droplets found in air. In smoke, these particles often are very tiny, smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. The diameter of the average human hair is about 30 times bigger than those particles. These particles can build up in a person's respiratory system, causing a number of health problems, including burning eyes, runny noses and illnesses such as bronchitis. The particles also can aggravate heart and lung diseases, such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and asthma.
Here are some things one can do to limit exposure to the smoke, without evacuating completely.
-If it looks smoky outside, limit physical exertion.
-If you're advised to stay indoors, keep your windows and doors closed. Run your air conditioner, if you have one. Keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean. Indoor air filtration devices with HEPA filters can reduce the levels of particles indoors. Make sure to change the HEPA filter regularly. Don't use an air cleaner that works by generating ozone. That puts more pollution into a home.
-Help keep particle levels inside lower by avoiding using anything that burns, such as wood stoves and gas stoves - even candles. And don't smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs - and those of the people around you.
-For asthma and chronic lung disease be sure you have your medications available and be vigilant about taking them as prescribed.
Smoke affects most people similarly. They may have a scratchy throat, cough, irritated sinuses, headaches, runny nose and stinging eyes. Children and people with lung diseases such as asthma may find it difficult to breathe as deeply or vigorously as normally, and they may cough or feel short of breath. People with diseases such as asthma or chronic bronchitis may find their symptoms worsening.
As far as permanent damage, most healthy adults generally find that their symptoms (runny noses, coughing, etc.) disappear after the smoke is gone.
Smoke affects domestic animals as it does humans. Don't make them work hard in the smokey air. Keep their activity level low during smokey conditions.
For individual information or problems it is best to check with one's personal physician about problems that are encountered.
This summer will probably tend to be smokey even when the Seeley and Church Camp fires are out. Many summers the Castle Valley gets a lot of smoke settling in it from fires far away. Smoke in the air is a function of topography, winds and weather.
This article drew information from U.S. Forest Service documents and from the Environmental Protection Agency.