Haims: Are you prepared for fire?
Colorado and many of the Western states have been experiencing an extreme heat wave which is increasing the potential for fire danger. If you have not prepared a to-go box or considered your health risks from smoke exposure, perhaps now would be a good time.
Currently, there are multiple fires burning in Colorado, Utah and Nevada. In Utah, there are currently three major fires: Pack Creek, Bear and Bennion Creek. The Pack Creek Fire has already burned almost 9,000 acres and is only about 58% contained. Sadly, the cause of this fire is an abandoned campfire.
The Bear Fire has now almost burned 9,000 acres and is only 65% contained. The Bennion Creek Fire has charred over 8,000 acres and is 63% contained. In neighboring Nevada, the Sandy Valley Fire has burned about 1,380 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Here in Colorado, fires have also started. The Sylvan Fire near Sylvan Lake State Park outside of Eagle has grown to 400 acres and is burning in difficult-to-access mountainous areas. The Oil Springs Fire burning in Rio Blanco County has already burned 500 acres and has not been contained.
We need to not only prepare for the possible effects on our communities and personal property, but our health as well. We all should be aware of smoke inhalation concerns and have an emergency plan in place.
Air from wildfires contains pollutants that are commonly referred to as PM2.5. These are particularly fine particle matters that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.
Often, such particulates can cause irritation to the eyes, throat and nose. Our nose does not filter out particles this small. When this happens, particles can make it deep into our lungs and even into our bloodstream causing impaired lung function and symptoms of inflammation.
Older adults, young children, those with asthma and anyone with respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis should be extra cautious.
As fires loom, perhaps the COVID-19 masks you have laying around should not be discarded quit yet.
Every home should have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors that have been tested within the last year. Fire extinguishers should be placed vertically in readily accessible places of each floor of the house. You should be aware that they do expire.
While most have a pressure gauge that will indicate the level of pressure inside, some do not. If the pressure gauge falls outside of the green zone, it is time to either have it recharged or purchase a new one. If there is no pressure gauge, you should replace the extinguisher every five to 10 years. Never dispose of old extinguishers in the trash or recycling bin.
Make sure you know where your shut-offs are for your gas, water and electricity. Before departing your home in an emergency, turning off these utilities is a good practice for disaster preparedness.
Everyone should have an emergency to-go box with essential supplies. The box should contain a cellphone, charging cord, portable cellphone power supply, a battery-powered radio and a flashlight with batteries kept separately (batteries last longer if not installed). Don’t forget cash — cash is always a good thing to have on hand in an emergency.
The to-go box should also contain copies of important documents such as a driver’s license, birth certificates, wills and/or trust documents, durable power of attorney, health care directives, passports and medication lists should be placed in a waterproof Ziploc bag.
Do not forget to have a written or typed list of emergency contacts. If your cell phone runs out of power or cell towers are down, a land line phone may help — only if you remember the phone numbers. Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses are always good to include.
An evacuation plan
Emergencies and chaos go hand in hand. When people become panicked and chaos erupts, making sure all your loved ones are out of harm’s way and together is imperative. Everyone with your household should know of at least two emergency meeting locations outside of the home — one should be nearby, and the second should be farther away such as a friend’s home, a school or religious building.
Everyone should have a Plan A and Plan B escape route from their home, out of their neighborhood, and out to Interstate 70 or another roadway. What streets would you take? What if one or more are blocked off because of fire or traffic?
When whole communities exit for safety, things get backed up and people panic. Let’s avoid such events and make a plans. When fires strike, every second counts.
For those who may have older family members and friends, or for those who may be older themselves, preparing for the unexpected emergency will save time and mitigate anxiety. Consider talking to neighbors and friends and develop a plan for yourself and others in your neighborhood. It’s just good sense to have a plan.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He can be contacted at VisitingAngels.com/comtns or by calling 970-328-5526.