Wildfires are common in Texas, especially after periods of drought. They can spread quickly and produce dangerous smoke, threatening property, lives and health. Help reduce your risks by learning how to respond.
What to Do Before a Wildfire
When the threat of wildfires is high, stay tuned to local radio and/or television, or get information from the National Weather Service about NOAA Weather Radio. Be prepared to evacuate immediately. Create your Disaster Supply Kit and keep it in an easily accessible place.
Take the following precautions:
- Know your preferred evacuation route, and a backup.
- Determine an evacuation location unless using a local shelter.
- Discuss communication plans with immediate family and extended family.
- Practice your emergency plan with your family, particularly children.
- Park your car in the direction of escape and keep the windows rolled up to prevent smoke from entering.
- Load your family disaster supply kit in the car and keep family photos or other things you plan to take with you nearby.
- Don’t let children or other family members stray far from home.
- Wear protective clothing (long sleeves and long pants), and keep a handkerchief in your pocket to protect your face.
- Confine all pets to one room or area of the yard so you can gather them quickly.
- Leave the lights on in your home so that fire fighters can see it through dense smoke.
- Before you leave, notify an out-of-town contact where you plan to go.
What to Do During a Wildfire
Smoke can pose a serious health threat, especially if you have chronic heart or lung disease. Children and older adults are also at greater risk. Smoky conditions affect even healthy people.
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants. It can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen symptoms from pre-existing conditions.
Common symptoms of smoke exposure include:
- Scratchy throat
- Irritated sinuses
- Shortness of breath/wheezing
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Stinging eyes
- Runny nose
- Fast heartbeat
If you experience any of these symptoms, take the following measures:
- Seek medical treatment if needed.
- Limit outdoor activities as much as possible.
- When you must go outside keep the windows and doors of your home closed.
- Run the air conditioner with the fresh-air intake closed, and use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.
- Avoid cooking as much as possible.
- Do not burn candles or use fireplaces.
- Keep your airways moist by drinking plenty of water. To help relieve dryness, breathe through a warm, wet cloth.
What to Do After a Wildfire
Wildfires spread quickly, damaging lives and property. But even after fires are out, you should take care to avoid injuries as you return home to begin the recovery process. Be aware of the following hazards:
Adults should use a protective respirator mask (N-95 or P-100) while cleaning up areas with uncontrolled ash particles.
Ash and dust from burned buildings may contain toxic and cancer-causing chemicals, including asbestos, arsenic, and lead. Children should not be in the area while cleanup is in progress.
Ground that appears solid may have ash pit areas containing live coals. Use extreme caution when walking on terrain affected by fire.
Avoid downed or damaged electrical lines. A qualified technician should make electrical repairs.
Place generators, power washers, and other fuel burning devices at least 50 feet away from the house and away from open doors and windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Do not enter an area or building where you smell gas. Do not turn on the lights, use cell or landline phones, or light a match. Leave the area immediately, then call 9-1-1.
Call 9-1-1 and the propane service provider about a damaged or leaking home propane tank. Do not transport leaking propane tanks in a car or dispose of them in the trash.
Discard food that may have spoiled, thawed, or come into contact with hazardous materials such as fire retardant or ash. Loss of power to refrigeration and freezer units can cause food to spoil. If you’re not certain food is safe, throw it out.
Check with the water provider to ensure the safety of your water supply.
Water from a damaged water system or well may require disinfection by boiling for one minute, or stirring in 1/8 teaspoon of unscented bleach per gallon and letting sit for 30 minutes.
Broken glass, exposed wires, nails, wood, metal, plastic, and other debris can cause puncture wounds, cuts, and burns. Falling trees and tree limbs while using chain saws can cause severe injuries. Seek medical treatment as needed, especially for puncture wounds.
Mental health is also a concern as people deal with the traumatic events in the aftermath of a fire. Common feelings may include fear, sadness, and guilt.
People can have trouble sleeping or feel jumpy, irritable, or numb. These symptoms are normal, and there are things people can do to cope with traumatic events:
- Memory loss is common following a traumatic event. Names, phone numbers, etc. you use frequently may be hard to remember. Consider making lists and write down thoughts as they come to you to preserve memory of things you need to do. Take breaks from cleanup efforts and don’t physically overexert yourself. Get rest, drink plenty of water, and accept help from others.
- Return to as many personal and family routines as possible, and find ways to relax and do something that you and your family have enjoyed in the past.
- Exercise, but do so indoors if the air quality isn’t acceptable.
- Talk about your experiences and feelings with family, friends, and/or someone else you trust, and keep a journal.
- Avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope with stress.
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