Effects of raging wildfires hit home

Health care officials warn residents to take precautions against smoke-filled air

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Effects of raging  wildfires hit homeIn a year of superlatives, California’s 2020 wildfire season is another realm of disasters that has secured a spot in the record books.

At press time, hundreds of fires across the state — many of which have been exacerbated by lightning strikes over the last week — had ravaged close to two million acres. At least 7 people have perished, hundreds of thousands have been evacuated, tens of thousands of firefighters have been deployed, pets and animals have perished, and countless billions in property damages have been incurred. (For more detailed information, see fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/)

Cal Fire is reporting that California is operating under a state of emergency, and all available resources have been committed to mitigating the destruction of our national forests, communities and other areas under threat.

While residents of the Indian Wells Valley remain safe from the blazes raging across the state, smoke from several nearby fires has triggered respiratory and other health issues.

Smoke from fires near Hughes Lake, as well as several from Northern California, have reached the skies over our community (visit airnow.gov to view a real-time smoke map.)

Last week, a lightning strike also caused a brush fire on a remote northern area of China Lake. Although that fire appears to be smaller than the others encroaching on our air quality, it continued to burn throughout the week.

“Our team of emergency response personnel remain fully committed to firefighting efforts,” reads the NAWS Facebook page (where all media inquiries have been directed).

The Castle Fire, burning in the nearby Sequoia National Forest, had reportedly reached more than 20,000 acres at 0 percent containment at press time. Lightning, combined with dry conditions and other factors, have all been identified as challenges in fighting the wildfire.

The Centers for Disease Control issued a warning to those vulnerable to health complications triggered by the particulate matter in the air.

While California’s wildfire season is an ongoing challenge for those suffering from COPD and asthma (among other conditions), CDC officials warn that risks of COVID-19 — which can also weaken the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system — put many people in a heightened state of risk.

Public health officials have encouraged anyone with health issues to remain indoors, whenever possible.

“I know that smoke in the air is not unusual for this time of year, but I don’t think it’s usually this bad,” said Michael Holm, a respiratory care practitioner at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.

“I realize it seems a little redundant to tell people to wear a mask, when most are wearing one anyway, but if you are particularly sensitive to particulate matter or allergens, make sure you are wearing a particle respirator or an N-95.”

He said that the smoke map at airnow.gov also gives information about the air quality, and the potential threat to people with respiratory issues that could compromise their health.

Holm said that he did not have current information about whether the present conditions have driven up patients seeking medical assistance. However, he said that typically the local clinics, along with urgent and emergency care centers, see an uptick in visits for respiratory issues.

“The wind and the heat can also make it worse,” he said. “So it is very important to stay inside, stay protected, and do anything you can to take care of yourself.”

Holm said that other precautions include ensuring that patients have a plentiful inventory of albuterol or other respiratory medications.

Smoke exposure can cause burning eyes, scratchy throat, coughing, headaches, nausea and other symptoms.

“One thing that is important to remember is you don’t need to ‘tough it out.’ If you think you are in trouble, please seek help,” said Holm.

“Some people wait until it’s too late. If you wait until you are having trouble breathing, it can be very difficult to reverse that.”

Pictured: Smoke hangs in the air, as evidenced in the view from College Heights Boulevard. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-08-28