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Wildfires

California is frequently hit by wildfires because of the dry climate and strong Santa Ana winds. Wildfires can result from lightning strikes or from human carelessness. According to the California Department of Forestry, it is estimated that more than half of California’s homes are at risk of some direct or indirect damage from fires.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in 2011 there were almost 6000 fires in California. In June and July of 2008, a series of about 2,000 fires raged across the state.

A wildfire, also known as a forest or wildland fire, is an uncontrolled fire which can consume large areas of brush, forest and any structures in their path. A fire tornado or fire whirl happens when unique air temperature and currents form a tornado-like effect.

Following a fire, the burned areas often experience flooding, excessive soil erosion, and landslides, because the bare slopes cannot hold the soil as well as a vegetated slope would.

Where There’s Fire There’s Smoke
I know, it’s backwards, but I wanted to talk about smoke and not fire. We might continue that thought with where there’s smoke there are health hazards. The smoke from forest or wild fires can create hazards even 10, 15, or 20 miles away from the actual fire. Included in smoke are small particles and gases from whatever was consumed by the fire. If you were to inhale them, they can pass by the respiratory system’s defensive mechanisms and cause an irritation in the lungs as well as a runny nose, burning eyes, and aggravate existing heart and lung problems.

Some people are more susceptible to the effects of smoke exposure than others. This is especially true if they are very young, very old or tend to be more susceptible, as in the case of those with respiratory problems such as asthma. If you go outdoors and it’s smoky, wear a dust mask or hold a wet towel over your face. This will provide some protection from the smoke over a relatively short period. If you have to be outside for extended periods of time, you might need to have a fitted respirator with appropriate cartridges. Keep in mind that without the appropriate respirator you might still be at risk. Wearing a mask such as those available at hardware stores may help but it will not filter out the smallest particles.

Be Prepared
Whether you are concerned about your business or home, there are things that you can do to protect your property. The Red Cross has developed a brochure that is designed to help.

Wildfire…Are You Prepared?
This is a document on wildfire preparedness, put together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and The Red Cross.
Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit
This brochure includes instructions and a checklist for creating a supply kit to have on hand in case a disaster should strike.
Home Inventory Guide
A step-by-step guide to creating a home inventory, by the California Department of Insurance.
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