Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke

FireSitting in Texas Mutual’s corporate office in Austin, Texas, this week’s wildfire in Bastrop seems like a world away. But the black smoke that consumed our skyline Wednesday evening had a way of bridging the 30 miles between the two cities.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. It can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system and worsen certain medical conditions. Wildfire smoke is especially dangerous to some people, including children, older adults and people who have heart disease, lung disease or asthma.

Firefighters are working hard to contain the Bastrop blaze. Until they do, everyone should practice a few simple smoke-inhalation prevention tips, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Check local air quality reports
Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Monitor the air quality index, and pay attention to public announcements about safety measures.

Consult local visibility guides
Some communities have monitors that measure the amount of particles in the air. In the western part of the United States, some states and communities provide guidelines to help people determine if there are high levels of particulates in the air by how far they can see.

Keep indoor air as clean as possible

Listen to this three-minute podcast for tips on how to cope with wildfire smoke.

Listen to this three-minute podcast for tips on how to cope with wildfire smoke.

Maintain indoor air quality by keeping windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter in a designated evacuation center or away from the affected area.

Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution
Smoking, as well as burning candles, fireplaces and gas stoves can increase indoor pollution. So too can vacuuming, which stirs up particles already inside your home.

Follow your doctor’s advice
If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your doctor’s advice about your medicines and your respiratory management plan. Consider evacuating the area if you are having trouble breathing, and call for more advice if your symptoms worsen.

Do not rely on dust masks for protection
Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke. An N95 mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. If you decide to keep a mask on hand, refer to this Respirator Fact Sheet.

Protect your business and your employees
Approximately 40 percent of small businesses never recover after a disaster, according to the American Red Cross. A detailed emergency response plan can help you protect your employees and your business.

More resources
Governor Greg Abbot declared a state of disaster in Bastrop County on Thursday. The fire has consumed more than 4,000 acres, and 400 residents have evacuated.  Firefighters have contained 25 percent of the blaze, but warm temperatures and dry conditions put not only Texas but much of the nation at ongoing risk. Texas Mutual encourages you to visit these websites to learn how to protect yourself during wildfires and other emergencies:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Texas Department of State Health Services

Federal Emergency Management Administration

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

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