Healthy Tahoe: Prepare, protect yourself, family in fire season

April Boyde
Smoky skies and trees with sun during wildfire. (Getty Images)

Wildfires pose an annual risk in our region, and with nearby fires and the Tahoe basin draped under a veil of smoke, the issue feels too close for comfort these days. Now is the time to be vigilant in fire preparedness and minimize the impact fire season has on you and your loved ones’ safety.

Prepare your home by keeping brush, low hanging branches, dead leaves, and flammable material off your property, especially within a 30-foot radius around your home. Mind red flag warnings; during these times, homeowners and visitors are encouraged to take extra precautions when using equipment or engaging in activity that may create a spark. In some cases, activities may be restricted based on fire danger.

Sign up for emergency phone alerts at or through the City of South Lake Tahoe or Douglas County. If you use social media, follow Cal Fire or your local fire agency. Learn your community’s evacuation plan from local officials and determine your evacuation routes. Mark multiple escape routes on a paper map in case you have no cell phone service. Practice these routes using the transportation you would take in a wildfire evacuation. Plan where you can stay if you have to leave your home. Decide if it is safe, and possible, to get to the home of family or friends.

Pack a go-bag that includes important items so you and your family will have what you need if you have to leave in a hurry. Your go-bag should include copies of important documents, your contact list and map marked with routes to get to your meeting place, a list or copies of all prescriptions taken by family members, some cash, and a list of items you should grab if you are advised to leave home. That list may outline items such as keys, wallet/ purse, phones, laptops and chargers, medications and medical devices, a portable radio so you can stay updated on the fire, pictures and irreplaceable items, and personal items you or a family member cannot do without.

Some fires don’t pose a threat of evacuation, but can greatly impact the air we breathe. Fine particles in wildfire smoke can cause health problems, especially for children, older people and those with respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Residents who see or smell smoke should consider taking precautionary measures. Healthy people are encouraged to delay strenuous exercise outside. Children and elderly people should consider avoiding outdoor activities, particularly prolonged outdoor exertion. People with health-related illnesses, particularly respiratory problems, should remain indoors.

When smoke is present, keep windows and doors closed as much as possible. Use the recirculate mode on the air conditioner in your car. Keep airways moist by drinking lots of water. Breathing through a warm, wet washcloth can also help relieve dryness.

The same particles in smoke that cause problems for people may cause some problems for animals. It is recommended that you limit the outdoor physical activity of your pets in smoky conditions. Wildlife may be confused or startled by smoky conditions. Please be cautious, as some animals may be moving about at unusual times of the day.

Resources like exist to gauge air quality. When online resources are not available, the Wildfire Smoke Visibility Index can help people assess air quality. To assess visibility, face away from the sun. Determine visibility range by looking for targets that are at known distances (in miles). The visible range is the point where even high-contrast objects disappear. For example, a 10-mile visibility is considered good, whereas visibility under a mile is considered hazardous for all groups.

Exposure to smoke can cause coughing, watery and itchy eyes, difficulty breathing, and other problems. Persons experiencing questionable or severe symptoms from smoke exposure should seek professional medical advice and/ or treatment.

April Boyde is the safety officer with Barton Health. To learn more about wildfire safety and preparedness, visit If you are experiencing a medical emergency due to wildfire smoke, call 9-1-1.

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