California Wildfires Remind Us Why All Disasters Impact Health

California Wildfires Remind Us Why All Disasters Impact Health

October 11th, 2017

Here at Healthcare Ready, we primarily activate for natural disasters such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and tornadoes on the Eastern and Southern parts of the nation. While these disasters are serious, we often overlook the various negative impacts that a wildfire can have on the surrounding environment and the people that live there. These disasters occur so frequently with little to no casualties, that there is little need to assist patients in these areas. Although wildfires tend to occur in isolated and less populated areas, they can cause major damage for the first responders and citizens in the surrounding areas.

As a California native, I’m no stranger to wildfires and the damage they can bring. California alone sees over 6,000 individual fires each year. Recent wildfires in the Northern California region have caused extensive damages to the property and welfare of thousands of local citizens. Burning over 100,000 acres of land collectively, these wildfires have claimed the lives of at least 15 people. While the initial threat of a wildfire is evident, the invisible threat can easily go undetected. The smoke from wildfires can be extremely detrimental to one’s health. Wildfire smoke is a combination of various gases and fine particles from the burning vegetation (trees, bushes, etc.). This smoke can irritate the respiratory system  as well as worsen chronic heart and lung conditions. People with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, and lung disease are at higher risk from wildfire smoke. Children and older adults are also at a higher risk of developing a heart or lung disease. Even healthy individuals are at risk of getting sick from wildfire smoke. Simply breathing in smoke can cause chest pain, irritated sinuses, wheezing and shortness of breath. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends individuals pay close attention to local air quality reports, avoid anything that burns, such as candles and fireplaces, and run an air conditioner if you have one. Keeping a freestanding indoor air filter with particle removal can help protect people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions and the elderly and children from the effects of wildfire smoke. While natural disasters don’t always pose as threats to people who encounter them, it’s always imperative to be mindful of the harmful effects that can results from even the smallest wildfire.

Lailah Fofana

Lailah Fofana is an intern at Healthcare Ready and a recent graduate of Howard University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a concentration in Management Communications and Economics. She previously worked as an intern at Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States in the Community Benefits department where she coordinated public health projects and plans while tracking the projected outcomes of each. At Healthcare Ready she is responsible for attending relevant meetings and briefings, developing meeting summaries for HcR leadership, identifying and tracking relevant working groups, and more. With her background in research and communications, Lailah is able to conduct qualitative and quantitative research while assisting with social media communications and blog management. Lailah plans on attending graduate school to earn her Masters in Public Health in the near future.