It’s wildfire season in California, and the Fairview Fire in Southern California has many people rightfully concerned about their health and safety. If you’re in or near the path of destruction, it’s crucial to follow evacuation orders issued by civil authorities. It could mean the difference between life and death.
Even if you’re hundreds of miles away, wildfire smoke can pose health risks, especially for people with heart, lung, and vascular diseases, such as asthma. At Blue Shield, when disaster strikes, we work hard to ensure the safety and care of all of our members. In addition, we encourage you to prepare in advance. Now’s the time to make sure you are ready to face any physical or mental health challenges that may arise.
Here are some questions and answers to help you prepare, informed by Blue Shield medical directors, Dr. Nina Birnbaum and Dr. Ravi Kavasery.
Q. What can I do to prepare for a wildfire ahead of time?
Here are important steps to take before a wildfire threatens your area:
- Gather emergency supplies, including a “go bag” in case you need to evacuate
- Set up an air filter or cleaner in a designated smoke-free room inside your home
- Keep track of fires and air quality in your area with resources such as CAL FIRE, AirNow and NOAA, or even your smartphone’s weather app
- Plan an evacuation route and make a family emergency communication plan.Visit Ready.gov for tips
- Add the Blue Shield of California mobile app to your mobile device so you can easily access your membership identification card and medical information, if needed
Q. Should I pack a “go bag” and if so, what should I put in it?
Creating a “go bag” is a great idea, so you can evacuate in a hurry if necessary. Items to include:
- Prescription medications including asthma inhalers, which may see increased use
- N95 masks to protect yourself from short-term exposure to smoke
- Copies of important documents, including your insurance card and medical records that list critical health information like medications you take, allergies, or medical conditions you have
You can also purchase or assemble a survival kit with items such as water, canned or preserved food, extra clothing, hygiene and first aid items, pet supplies, a flashlight, and an extra cell phone charger/external battery. The American Red Cross has a full list here.
Q. Once smoke and/or a wildfire is in my area, how can I best protect my health?
Do your best to stay inside if it’s smoky outside. Limit exercise and other activities that could cause you to breathe deeply. If you need to go outside, a well-fitting N95 mask can be helpful for short periods of time to protect your lungs. Cloth, paper, surgical, or dust masks will not protect you from wildfire smoke. The Santa Clara County Public Health website has more information about masks and wildfire smoke that is useful no matter where you live.
Don’t neglect your mental health. The threat of wildfires can make you feel anxious and being stuck inside can worsen depression. Reach out if you need help.
Resources for Blue Shield of California members
- Blue Shield members who are impacted by wildfires and need assistance with health insurance coverage can call the customer service number on your member ID card. If you do not have your ID card, call (800) 393-6130 (TTY: 711).
- Click here to learn more about how Blue Shield can help.
- For mental health information, visit Blue Shield’s “Mental Health Resources” webpage.