Protect yourself and your family from health effects of wildfires and related power
Help is available for those struggling with trauma caused by wildfires
For many people in Oregon, dealing with the wildfires has been especially difficult.
For those directly affected by the fires and evacuations, these traumatic events can bring feelings of stress, anxiety, grief, worry and anger. Even those who were not directly affected by fires and evacuations this year but have experienced them in the past may feel these emotions again. Seeing news reports or images of current fires or hearing about fires affecting loved ones can drive feelings like anxiety and stress.
If you’d like to talk with someone or find mental health resources, remember, the Safe + Strong Helpline is only a call away: 1-800-923-HELP (4357).
Protect yourself and your family when smoke levels are high
Smoke levels can change rapidly depending on weather. Check current conditions on the Oregon Smoke Information Blog (http://ow.ly/hZmC50KFZn9), Oregon DEQ Air Quality Index (http://ow.ly/IWyx50KFZnf) or by downloading the free OregonAIR app (http://ow.ly/aqgW50KFZnc) on your smartphone.
Remember that cloth, dust and surgical masks do NOT protect from the harmful particles in smoke.
N95 or P100 respirators approved by NIOSH may offer protection, but they must be properly fitted and worn. They won’t work for everyone, especially children.
Here’s how you can protect yourself and your family when smoke levels are high:
Stay inside if possible
- Follow your breathing plan if you have one. Wildfires and pollution contain small particles that can make asthma and other chronic diseases worse.
- Make sure you have enough medication and monitor your health. Call your health care provider if your asthma gets worse or you’re exposed to smoke.
- If you can, create a cleaner air space.
- Keep windows and doors closed.
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
- If available, use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in indoor ventilation systems or portable air purifiers.
- You can also create a DIY Box fan filter: http://ow.ly/NYMB50KFZne
- If you are unable to create a cleaner air space, many communities open cleaner air spaces during severe smoke events. In partnership with local officials and organizations, 211Info maintains a list of public cleaner air spaces. You can learn more about cleaner air spaces:
- Dial 2-1-1 or 1-866-698-6155- available 24 hours a day.
- Text your zip code to 898211 (TXT211) – available M-F from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
- Check https://www.211info.org/
- For more information on protecting your health during wildfires, visit http://ow.ly/CQIy50KFZnb.
If your power goes out during the fires, there are ways to keep your family safe
- Refrigerated or frozen foods may not be safe to eat after the loss of power.
- During power outages, keep your fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep the cold in.
- Throw out perishable food in your refrigerator (meat, fish, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk and any leftovers) after 4 hours without power. A freezer can stay cold for up to 48 hours, but any frozen perishable foods should be thrown away if they thawed. Never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment. Unplugging your medical devices, appliances, computers and other sensitive electronics can protect them from damage when the power returns.
- If you use a generator during the public safety power shutoff, never use it inside your home, basement or garage.
- Run your generator more than 20 feet from any window, door or vent. Generators can produce carbon monoxide. When carbon monoxide builds up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces, it can be lethal to people and animals.
- When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home, especially in sleeping areas.
For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/poweroutage/needtoknow.html.
Get your prescriptions filled even in an emergency, preferably at a pharmacy
Any pharmacy in Oregon can make an emergency prescription refill for a person who had to leave an area affected by a declared disaster.
- It is preferred, and in some cases perhaps easier, to use the same company that filled the original prescription.
- If the pharmacist believes the medicine is needed to maintain the patient’s health or to continue established treatment, the pharmacist can make a refill.
- The emergency refill may be for no more than a 30-day supply.
- Go to any pharmacy in Oregon, preferably one from the same company as the original fill and request an emergency 30-day refill.
- A pharmacy will bill insurance as normal if you have insurance. There still may be an associated co-pay.
- Reach out to their insurance company and work with your pharmacy to get the medications refilled and the costs covered. Call the state’s consumer advocates at 888-877-4894 if there are any issues.
- If you don’t have insurance or have other questions about accessing emergency refills, Oregon Health Authority might be able to help. E-mail the Oregon Health Authority’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Drinking water may be affected by wildfires
After a wildfire, those who have water supplied by a public water system should know:
- Customers should stay tuned for messaging from their public water system regarding a potential boil or do not drink advisory. If there is no advisory, it is okay to drink the water.
- If wildfire was directly over or very near water pipes and water pressure was lost, avoid drinking the water until it is tested for contamination or verified that no plastic pipes were affected.
- Keep an emergency supply of water in case a power outage causes a disruption in service.
After a wildfire, domestic well users should Assess, Protect, and Test the well with the following guidance:
Begin by completing a well assessment to identify damage level and next steps.
- Follow recommendations in well damage assessment for repairing the well. Make sure you know what work you are authorized to do and what is required to be done by a licensed professional.
- After you have assessed the damage to your well and taken the needed actions, it’s time to test the water. Contact an accredited laboratory to coordinate sample collection and analysis. A list of accredited labs is available online https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/LABORATORYSERVICES/ENVIRONMENTALLABORATORYACCREDITATION/Documents/DWLabsWithPublicTesting_rpt.pdf
If you own a well and a wildfire didn’t affect your area, but you had a power outage:
- Turn on a faucet in the home to see if water comes out.
- Observe whether water intermittently spurts out because of air escaping from the open faucet. Spurting water indicates a loss of pressure in the well and the household plumbing.
What should be done if the well lost pressure?
- Warn users not to drink the water until the well water tests negative for bacterial contamination.
- Test water for bacterial contamination at a minimum. Water may need to be tested for nitrates and other local contaminants of concern using a certified laboratory.
- Prime the well pump.
- Disinfect* and flush the well. Consult with a well contractor if needed.
NOTE: Turn off power to the pump before inspecting to avoid electrical shock.
For additional tips visit:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Private Wells after a Wildfire: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/water/private-wells/after-a-wildfire.html
Oregon Health Authority’s Domestic Well Water Program: https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/HEALTHYENVIRONMENTS/DRINKINGWATER/SOURCEWATER/DOMESTICWELLSAFETY/Pages/Wildfire-Impacted-Domestic-Well-Testing.aspx
Media contact: Erica Heartquist, 503-871-8843, Erica.J.Heartquist@dhsoha.state.or.us