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Protect Yourself: Wildfire Smoke & Ash

In July, we told you all about wildfires: what they are, what causes them, and what you can do help prevent them in the future.

But what are you supposed to do if there is a wildfire in your area? Here are some tips to help you stay safe during and after a wildfire:

  • Make a personal evacuation plan. Include alternatives in case shelters are overcrowded or won’t accept your pets.
    • If you have a vehicle, fill up the gas tank in case you are unable to stop while evacuating. You never know which roads will be shut down when you are evacuating.
  • Pay attention to fires in your area, and adjust your plans as needed.
  • Build or buy an emergency supply kit. Make sure it includes any medications you or your family members regularly take, as well as food and water and basic medical supplies.
    • If you are unsure what to include in your emergency kit for a wildfire, you can find a checklist from the Canadian Red Cross here.
  • Keep air filters on-hand. The S. Centre for Disease Control recommends finding a room in your home that you can seal off from the rest of your home to and installing an air filter (or portable air cleaner) in this room.
  • If you have to go outside, or if smoke is entering your home, wear a respirator.
  • Check air quality reports before going outside.
  • While we mostly think of smoke when discussing wildfire irritants, exposure to ash can also impact your health. Cover your skin if you will be out in ash, including gloves, masks and goggles, and wash up thoroughly once you get back inside.
  • In addition to physical health, mental health can also be impacted by wildfires. Check in with yourself and the people around you, and help each other find resources and support when needed.
  • And most importantly, follow all evacuation orders.
    • For more information on evacuation in BC, click here.

When it comes to your house or business and your insurance, keep the following in mind:

  • Only enter your home/business if you are permitted to do by authorities. If any part of the building seems structurally unsound, do not enter.
  • Take lots of photos of the building – inside and out – showing the damage. Making notes about what you find while cleaning up can help with your insurance claim too.
  • Unless they pose a threat, do not throw away damaged items until your claim in process and you have discussed it with an adjustor.
  • If you have a private water source, have it tested before consuming or washing with it.
  • Wildfires often result in power outages. Discard any food that may have spoiled. (This will depend on how long your power was out and what type of fridge and freezer you have.)
    • Keep a list of the food items you had to discard – there is often some coverage for this through home insurance policies.
    • Do not eat food from your garden if fire retardant has been used in your area.
  • Sweep up or hose down ash on your building, driveway and sidewalk, as well as your car and any other belongings outside. Ash erodes some materials.
    • Do not use leaf/snow blowers – this just spreads the ash particles.
    • Dispose of ash in garbage bags – do not sweep it down storm drains.
  • Get your air conditioning system professionally cleaned, and replace the filters regularly.
  • Carefully clean the inside of your home/business.
    • If you vacuum, make sure the vacuum has a HEPA filter in it. (These filters trap tiny particles that other filters do not, preventing them from being recirculated in your home.)
    • For areas with light ash, use soap and water to clean the surface. Where there is heavier ash, the California Department of Public Health recommends gently sweeping the area before wetting it down and mopping it up.

The First Nations Health Authority in West Vancouver has a great guidebook on Returning to Your Home After Wildfires – find it online here.

Download our Wildfire Resources Guide for more information and helpful resources.

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