How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke

How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke

As the world warms up, dangerous wildfires have become a common occurrence. They cause widespread devastation and threaten lives. Although wildfires have existed for millions of years, it is thought that up to 90% are caused by human behaviour. Understanding the risks and how to protect yourself can help you stay safe during wildfire season.

What are wildfires?

“A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that burns in wildland vegetation, often in rural areas. Wildfires can burn in forests, grasslands, savannas, and other ecosystems, and have been doing so for hundreds of millions of years.”

Also known as bushfires, a wildfire can burn land at shockingly high speeds, destroying everything in its path. The fires can reach speeds of up to 14mph - significantly faster than the average runner. For reference, 14pmh is the equivalent to running a 4-minute mile pace! The scale of wildfires is truly devastating and has increased dramatically in the United States over the last 20 years. Each year, more than 70,000 wildfires clear an average of 7 million acres of land in total.

Pollution mask in the city to protect against pollution

How do wildfires start?

Wildfires can be started by natural causes, like lightning strikes, or by human actions, such as campfires or cigarette butts. Although classed as ‘natural disasters’, a devastating 85-90% of wildfires are actually caused by human actions.There are three main factors that determine the magnitude of the fire and how quickly it spreads:

  • Fuel – Dried leaves, grasses and small branches can act as kindling that ignite quickly and easily, helping the fire to spread rapidly. This fuel can generate enough heat to ignite heavier fuels such as large branches, tree stumps and organic matter on forest floors, that are harder to ignite but more difficult to extinguish. Some evergreen trees (pine, cedar, fir and spruce) even contain flammable oils that can burst into flame when they become hot enough.
  • Weather – Drought, high temperatures and strong winds are conditions that can lead to more severe fires. These conditions can leave vegetation dried out and more susceptible to ignition. Once a fire has started, high winds will cause the fire to spread rapidly and fuel it with oxygen.
  • Topography – flames burn far more rapidly uphill than they do downhill, so topography plays a big part in the speed and direction that wildfires spread.

Wildfires can burn underground (ground fires) as well as on the surface of the ground (surface fires) or in the leaves and canopies of trees (canopy fires). Ground fires can even smoulder for a whole season until they have the right conditions to ignite into surface and canopy fires. 

What are wildfires?

“A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that burns in wildland vegetation, often in rural areas. Wildfires can burn in forests, grasslands, savannas, and other ecosystems, and have been doing so for hundreds of millions of years.”

Also known as bushfires, a wildfire can burn land at shockingly high speeds, destroying everything in its path. The fires can reach speeds of up to 14mph - significantly faster than the average runner. For reference, 14pmh is the equivalent to running a 4-minute mile pace! The scale of wildfires is truly devastating and has increased dramatically in the United States over the last 20 years. Each year, more than 70,000 wildfires clear an average of 7 million acres of land in total.

Pollution mask in the city to protect against pollution
Pollution mask in the city to protect against pollution

How do wildfires start?

Wildfires can be started by natural causes, like lightning strikes, or by human actions, such as campfires or cigarette butts. Although classed as ‘natural disasters’, a devastating 85-90% of wildfires are actually caused by human actions.

There are three main factors that determine the magnitude of the fire and how quickly it spreads:

  • Fuel – Dried leaves, grasses and small branches can act as kindling that ignite quickly and easily, helping the fire to spread rapidly. This fuel can generate enough heat to ignite heavier fuels such as large branches, tree stumps and organic matter on forest floors, that are harder to ignite but more difficult to extinguish. Some evergreen trees (pine, cedar, fir and spruce) even contain flammable oils that can burst into flame when they become hot enough.
  • Weather – Drought, high temperatures and strong winds are conditions that can lead to more severe fires. These conditions can leave vegetation dried out and more susceptible to ignition. Once a fire has started, high winds will cause the fire to spread rapidly and fuel it with oxygen.
  • Topography – flames burn far more rapidly uphill than they do downhill, so topography plays a big part in the speed and direction that wildfires spread.

Wildfires can burn underground (ground fires) as well as on the surface of the ground (surface fires) or in the leaves and canopies of trees (canopy fires). Ground fires can even smoulder for a whole season until they have the right conditions to ignite into surface and canopy fires. 

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Are there any benefits to wildfires?

It might seem counterintuitive, however wildfires can be essential to the ongoing survival of some plant species and are integral to keeping ecosystems healthy.

As fire is a natural phenomenon, many species have evolved to become reliant on it. Pine cones, for example, are covered in pitch which must be melted in order for the cone to open and release their seeds for germination. Fires can also kill diseases and insects that harm trees, as well as clear room for new vegetation to grow; decaying plants build up on the ground which prevents other organisms from accessing nutrients in the soils. New vegetation grows in the cleared area which acts as a foods source for animals and birds.Overall, the fires can greatly increase soil fertility, which is something farmers have utilised for generations.

What are the dangers of wildfire smoke?

The biggest threat from smoke is from fine particles which can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a range of health problems. Exposure to this particulate matter has been linked to premature death. Particles of 2.5 microns (PM2.5) and below are some of the most harmful particles, which can also be found in polluted city air. The health problems linked to inhaling these particles include:

  • Coughing and shortness of breath
  • Chronic heart and lung disease
  • Asthma and respiratory infections
  • Cancer
  • Brain damage and depression

It’s important to be aware that some people are more at risk than others. Those with existing heart disease, lung disease or diabetes are more susceptible to experiencing chronic symptoms. Older adults are more likely to have existing heart or lung conditions and pregnant women are at risk of potential health effects to themselves and the unborn baby. Younger children are also particularly vulnerable because their respiratory systems are still developing and they breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults.   

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How can I protect myself from wildfire smoke?

Avoiding areas of heavy smoke and pollution is the best way to minimise the amount of particulate matter that you’re inhaling.

If that’s not possible then protect yourself by using a suitable face mask, sometimes referred to as a smoke mask. Make sure you choose a mask that has an airtight seal and high filtration efficiency. An ill-fitting or loose seal on a mask renders it useless, as smoke and polluted air can leak in at the sides and bypass the filter.

Head inside, if safe to do so. Going indoors and closing the doors and windows can provide some protection from particulate matter. However whilst it reduces the risk, it does not remove it completely and all evacuation orders should always be followed.

Shop

Are there any benefits to wildfires?

It might seem counterintuitive, however wildfires can be essential to the ongoing survival of some plant species and are integral to keeping ecosystems healthy.

As fire is a natural phenomenon, many species have evolved to become reliant on it. Pine cones, for example, are covered in pitch which must be melted in order for the cone to open and release their seeds for germination. Fires can also kill diseases and insects that harm trees, as well as clear room for new vegetation to grow; decaying plants build up on the ground which prevents other organisms from accessing nutrients in the soils. New vegetation grows in the cleared area which acts as a foods source for animals and birds.

Overall, the fires can greatly increase soil fertility, which is something farmers have utilised for generations.

Pollution mask in the city to protect against pollution
Pollution mask in the city to protect against pollution

What are the dangers of wildfire smoke?

The biggest threat from smoke is from fine particles which can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a range of health problems. Exposure to this particulate matter has been linked to premature death. Particles of 2.5 microns (PM2.5) and below are some of the most harmful particles, which can also be found in polluted city air. The health problems linked to inhaling these particles include:

  • Coughing and shortness of breath
  • Chronic heart and lung disease
  • Asthma and respiratory infections
  • Cancer
  • Brain damage and depression

It’s important to be aware that some people are more at risk than others. Those with existing heart disease, lung disease or diabetes are more susceptible to experiencing chronic symptoms. Older adults are more likely to have existing heart or lung conditions and pregnant women are at risk of potential health effects to themselves and the unborn baby. Younger children are also particularly vulnerable because their respiratory systems are still developing and they breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults.   

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How can I protect myself from wildfire smoke?

Avoiding areas of heavy smoke and pollution is the best way to minimise the amount of particulate matter that you’re inhaling.

If that’s not possible then protect yourself by using a suitable face mask, sometimes referred to as a smoke mask. Make sure you choose a mask that has an airtight seal and high filtration efficiency. An ill-fitting or loose seal on a mask renders it useless, as smoke and polluted air can leak in at the sides and bypass the filter.

Head inside, if safe to do so. Going indoors and closing the doors and windows can provide some protection from particulate matter. However whilst it reduces the risk, it does not remove it completely and all evacuation orders should always be followed.

Shop Masks
Pollution mask in the city to protect against pollution
Pollution mask in the city to protect against pollution

Airhead Mask - nanofiber filter technology

The Airhead Mask is designed to offer the wearer protection whilst making it comfortable and secure to wear. The face seal is made of a soft Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) that moulds to the face and helps create an airtight seal to prevent particulate matter or smoke leaking in at the sides. The dual-strap headband ensures the mask stays in place on your face whether walking, running or cycling so you know you’re always protected. A great benefit of the mask is that it is compliant with safety glasses and spectacles to enable full protection, without the glasses steaming up.

The technology used in the 5-layer filter provides high-powered filtration of up to 99.4% of particulate matter, to reduce inhalation of PM10, PM2.5 and PM0.3. Each filter is comprised of 3 key materials:

  • Spunbond outer layers to ensure the filter remains intact, skin-friendly and water-repellent
  • Non-woven polypropylene meltblown particulate filtration layers to remove particulate matter 
  • An activated carbon layer helping to reduce harmful gases entering the mask
Shop Masks

Airhead Mask - nanofiber filter technology

The Airhead Mask is designed to offer the wearer protection whilst making it comfortable and secure to wear. The face seal is made of a soft Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) that moulds to the face and helps create an airtight seal to prevent particulate matter or smoke leaking in at the sides. The dual-strap headband ensures the mask stays in place on your face whether walking, running or cycling so you know you’re always protected. A great benefit of the mask is that it is compliant with safety glasses and spectacles to enable full protection, without the glasses steaming up.

The technology used in the 5-layer filter provides high-powered filtration of up to 99.4% of particulate matter, to reduce inhalation of PM10, PM2.5 and PM0.3. Each filter is comprised of 3 key materials:

  • Spunbond outer layers to ensure the filter remains intact, skin-friendly and water-repellent
  • Non-woven polypropylene meltblown particulate filtration layers to remove particulate matter 
  • An activated carbon layer helping to reduce harmful gases entering the mask
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Purchase your reusable face mask

By choosing to wear a reusable mask, rather than a disposable one, you can help to reduce waste and do your bit for the planet. Designed and made in the UK, we've created an effective mask to help you move more and breathe clean air, comfortably. Get yours today.