Wildfire smoke carries a long way.... - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Wildfire smoke carries a long way....

May 15, 2007

Albany   --  Not only is the smoke causing problems in the roads, it's posing a health risk.  It can make breathing difficult, burn your eyes, and even trigger asthma attacks.

A public health alert was issued for 14 southwest Georgia counties.  It  recommends that people at risk of smoke inhalation take precautions.

As wildfires intensify near the Georgia/Florida line, smoke is settling in our area.  That can cause health problems for many southwest Georgians, especially the elderly.

Dwight Kulbe frequently checks on his 80-year-old neighbor. " Some of the elderly people are really having a tough time with it. I just left on of our neighbors and this is the first time she's poked her head out the door. She poked her head out the door and her sinuses got all messed up. She can't wait for it to clear up. "

Even while the air may seem relatively clean, where there is smoke, there is also an the increased risk of respiratory infections. And just going outdoors can be dangerous to those with breathing problems.

Gail Stanko's mother is taking precautions.  She stays indoors as much as possible. "My mother has COPD and emphysema and she is already on a nebulizer and two inhalers so she's increased a little bit. Keep all the windows and the doors closed. Even a beautiful day like this you just leave the air on and don't take the risk of it coming up."

That's good advice.  Health experts say you should limit outdoor activity and stay in an air conditioned environment.  Leave the area if you don't have air conditioning or if smoke gets in your home.  Avoid vigorous activity.  And delay vacuuming so you don't stir up dust particles.

The danger of breathing in smoke intensifies for those who already have breathing problems such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic lung disease. If you have been exposed to smoke, there are warning signs you need to look for.

"One of these things that you might notice is that you're having difficulty breathing. There may be wheezing, there may be headaches, but the simple things like nasal irritation or dry eyes or irritation of the eyes and throat, coughing fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain; those would be more obvious signs," said Brenda Green of Health Services. "If they find themselves having these conditions they want to contact their physician or healthcare provider."

Now if you have been diagnosed with lung problems and you have a doctor's appointment or you have to go outside while the smoke is bad, you are urged to contact your physician before you attempt to leave your home.

The Health Department says holding a cloth over your face won't really help protect you, even if it's wet.

The South Georgia Health District says that during an incident of high smoke or particle pollution levels, you should:
  • Limiting outdoor activity and remaining in an air-conditioned environment.
  • Leaving the area until the smoke has cleared if you do not have air conditioning or if smoke is likely to get into your residence.
  • Avoiding vigorous activity both indoors and outdoors.
  • Delaying vacuuming when possible to avoid stirring up particles already within your home.
  • Do not rely on dust masks, bandanas or other cloths, even if wet, to protect you from smoke.
  • Contact your medical provider if you are concerned about possible exposure affecting your health.
  • Stay alert to news coverage or health warnings related to smoke.

For more information about the wildfire situation in Georgia, visit www.gema.state.ga.us/.

So what about animals?

Surprisingly it is not as bad as what you would think. According to Department of Natural Resources officials, wildfires play a natural role in ecosystem development.

"The timing of the fires right now is bad for the shrub nesting and ground nesting birds. But in the long term these animals are adapted to the fire, and it will actually benefit wildlife by creating better forage for them," says Julie Robbins of the Georgia DNR.

Pet owners however that live near the wildfires are asked to use caution if your animal has any breathing problems.

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