Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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More Fire Advice

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This is my third day of watching the Black Crater fire near Sisters, Oregon. Yesterday, thick plumes of orange smoke rose from the pine forests not far from our location. The darker smoke indicated new, more oily fuel burning, from the pitch (resin) in the trees. At night, we could see reflections from the flames; this past afternoon, the flames themselves were visible from a distance of approximately 8 miles. Today, whiter smoke is rising from areas burning from drier fuel with a less intense burn, but it is dangerous nonetheless. It is windier than usual for this time of year, which spreads the fire and makes it much more dangerous for firefighters and local residents. Many people have their cars packed with irreplaceable possessions, because if the order comes to evacuate, there is no time to collect belongings – you have to get out as fast as possible. It is impressive listening to large airplanes dropping dropping water and chemicals on the fire.

When a fire is burning in your vicinity, the air quality is often markedly diminished. At times, you can taste the smoke and find ash drifting into your hair. It is not the time to be exercising, and certainly not a time to be backpacking or riding mountain trails that might be engulfed in the fire line. Persons with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, congestive heart failure, or any other cardiopulmonary condition in which oxygen supply is critical need to be very cautious, and remain indoors in an air-filtered, air-conditioned environment if possible. If the smoke becomes momentarily overwhelming, a cool and wet cloth held over the mouth and nose through which to breathe can be helpful. Sometimes a surgical mask can help, but the best thing to do is to avoid the smoke. Persons with asthma or any other form of “reactive airway” disease need to be similarly cautious and be certain to carry bronchodilator medications with them at all times.

For everyone else, there is an attraction to get close to fires, to observe them or take photographs. For your safety and the safety of rescuers, please don’t do this. Fire behavior is unpredictable. A wind direction shift and/or increase in wind velocity can move a fire toward you much faster than you can move away from it. Know your escape routes and stay close to them.

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Tags: Hot & Cold , Staying Safe

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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