The California forest fire season has started terribly this year and has burned hundreds of thousands of hectares, fueled by the Santa Ana wind.
These fires, which usually start in September, occur in hot and dry conditions, making it easy for the flames to spread and, in turn, difficult to extinguish the flames.
Nearly 200,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes, thousands have no power and dozens of homes and businesses have been destroyed.
On Sunday, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state-wide emergency and said officials & # 39; all available resources & # 39; to respond to forest fires.
Even if these residents escape from the imminent danger of hell, there is a physical toll that long after the flames are extinguished: small particles that enter the bloodstream and smog that irritates the lungs.
The damage that these insidious little spots can cause varies from coughing to asthma and, as time goes by, their effects even lead to risks for cancer and heart disease.
DailyMail.com spoke to two climate specialists who explained about the impact that forest fires have on our health and why they expect the number of people affected by the fires to become even larger than those who burn in the square miles each season.
DailyMail.com spoke with two climate activists who explained the devastating health effects of inhaling natural fire smoke, including small particles that increase the risk of heart disease, asthma and cancer. Pictured: A fire brigade helicopter flies over the Getty Fire while it burns in the hills of West Los Angeles, California on Monday
& # 39; Wildfire smoke is a serious but undervalued damage that affects people far from just in the immediate vicinity, & # 39; Dr. told Vijay Limaye, fellow for climate change at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), at DailyMail.com.
& # 39; There is an air pollution soup that people breathe through fires. & # 39;
Dr. Limaye said that perhaps the most dangerous health problem surrounding forest fires is the burning of fine dust, or PM2.5.
The concentration of an air pollutant is measured in micrograms (µg) per cubic meter of air (m3).
These particles are so small that their width is about thirty times smaller than that of a human hair.
These fire events are so-called exceptional events and they are becoming less and less exceptional.
Dr. Vijay Limaye, fellow for climate change at the National Resources Defense Council
& # 39; The air contains a complex mixture of gases and small solid particles (produced) when wood burns, & # 39; said Dr. Limaye.
& # 39; Those tiny particles bypass our natural defense mechanisms, whether it's coughing, sneezing or swallowing. & # 39;
Because of how small they are, PM2.5 particles stay in the air longer than heavy particles, which increases the risk that we breathe them.
Because of their small diameter, these pieces of material can get deep into the lungs, get stuck in the tissue and possibly end up in the bloodstream.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 0 to 12 µg / m3 is seen as little to no risk.
Forest fires often leave the air with levels of PM2.5 above 35 µg / m3 – almost three times what the EPA considers acceptable for human health.
& # 39; (The particles) enter the lungs and bloodstream and infect a whole lot of systems in the body, & # 39; said Dr. Limaye.
& # 39; There is a lot of strong epidemiology about links to heart attacks, lung disease, asthma and emphysema. & # 39;
A study Published earlier this year, led by Imperial College London, discovered that PM2.5 pollution caused 30,000 deaths in the continental US between 1999 and 2015, mainly due to secondary conditions such as asthma and heart attacks.
And an October 2018 study discovered that exposure to PM2.5 could increase the risk of oral cancer by up to 40 percent.
Program director Bruce Riordan of the Climate Readiness Institute says that forest fire smoke also contains other pollutants, such as hydrogen cyanide.
Hydrogen cyanide, also known as blue acid, is a highly volatile liquid or gas that is colorless or light blue.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, inhaling the toxic gas can deprive almost every organ in the body – including the brain, heart and lungs – of oxygen.
Without enough oxygen, the tissues of these vital organs will begin to die.
Hydrogen cyanide is rapidly absorbed by the lungs and can result in death within a few minutes if no additional oxygen is administered.
TIPS FROM AIR SOURCES IN CALIFORNIA TO AVOID AIR POLLUTION
1. Stay indoors and try to keep the air in the house clean by closing doors and windows and switching off the AC
2. Use highly efficient filters for HVAC systems
3. Do not use swamp coolers and home fans
4. Restrict outdoor activities when the air quality is poor
5. If the air pollution is very bad, buy a mask, such as an N95
This is not only a concern for residents in the immediate vicinity of the fires.
According to a 2013 report of the NRDC, the area affected by exposure to smoke is 50 times larger than the burnt area.
For example, the smoke from the campfire in 2018 reached 150 to 200 miles beyond the area it burned in Butte County in Northern California.
And currently in Imperial County, hit by the Kincade Fires, the air quality index is 163 – marked as a & # 39; unhealthy for everyone & # 39 ;.
On a normal day it is about twice as low as 60, which is marked as & # 39; Good & # 39 ;.
& # 39; This draws attention to a problem that is self-evident and acute, but affects millions of people in the country, & # 39; said Dr. Limaye.
Riordan and his wife are two of those people.
The couple lived southwest of the campfire and Riordan says they both developed chronic conditions in the aftermath.
& # 39; We have never had serious problems with cardiovascular health and we now both have an inhaler because the smoke lasted for a few days and we did not take sufficient care to protect ourselves & # 39 ;, he told DailyMail.com
Within a month of the first flames of the campfire, both Riordan and his wife developed a cough.
& # 39; Mine did not even go away for a few months and hers still lingers, & # 39; he said.
& # 39; I don't have to use (my inhaler) often, but my wife is a landscaper, so she needs to use her regularly (because) physical exertion evokes it – and we got rid of it easily. & # 39;
In the coming years, it is almost inevitable that more and more Californians will be exposed to pollutants left behind by more and more frequent forest fires, causing not only acute but chronic health problems.
Climate change feeds more forest fires and longer seasons as the temperature rises, changes in seasonal patterns change, snow melts earlier in the year and the soil loses critical moisture.
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the average natural fire season is 78 days longer.
And a study from Columbia University, published earlier this year, discovered that the annual burnt-out area in California increased five-fold in the years 1972 to 2018, mainly due to forest fires in the summer.
& # 39; These fire events are so-called exceptional events and they are becoming less and less exceptional. Limaye.
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