Wildfires can strike at any time, and during Wildfire Awareness Week, the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Environment Department are encouraging residents to be prepared by learning more about smoke, fire, and health resources available.
“Smoke can not only hurt your eyes, but can also irritate your respiratory system, and aggravate chronic heart and lung problems,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Lynn Gallagher. “People with heart or lung disease, adults over age 65, young children, and pregnant women should minimize outdoor activities during times when the visibility is about five miles or less.”
To get ready for wildfire season, healthcare facilities, schools, businesses, and other places where people gather should take steps to become clean air shelters. Home and community clean air shelters protect public health during wildfire smoke events. Replacing HVAC filters annually before wildfire season will help to keep smoke out of buildings.
Additionally, individuals using air conditioning in their home should set their system to ‘recirculate’ during smoke events to avoid smoke entering their home. Room-size air cooling systems that don’t bring in outside air can also be used to cool the home while keeping smoky air from coming in.
Organizers of outdoor events, including sports, should know how to make decisions about hosting or postponing activities or practice if conditions become smoky. Don’t wait until game day. See the Safety Decision Making Toolkit available at nmtracking.org/environment/air/FireAndSmoke.html. Find additional wildfire and smoke resources at env.nm.gov/aqb/WildfireSmokeLinks.htm.
Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
Since the Southwest United States typically has very low humidity, visibility is an easy way to determine if it is healthy to be outside when smoke is present. Use the 5-3-1 Visibility Method at nmtracking.org/fire to determine if smoke might impact your health. Residents are encouraged to listen and watch local and statewide news for health warnings about smoke.
When advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere such as at a cooling center or at a relative’s or friend’s home. During the day, consider going to public libraries, senior centers and other public places that may have air conditioning. For multi-day events, consider staying somewhere else until the air quality improves. Get more tips at nmtracking.org/health/heatstress/Heat.html.
The New Mexico Environment Department operates air quality monitors at multiple locations around the state. The monitors gather information about air quality conditions and help to keep the public informed. Data from the Environment Department air monitors can be found at drdasnm1.alink.com/.
Since air quality monitors are not everywhere, the eyes are your best tools to determine if it’s safe to be outside. However, no matter how far one can see, if individuals are having health effects from smoke exposure, they are advised to take extra care to stay inside or get to an area with better air quality and to also see a doctor or healthcare professional as needed.