Wildfire risk is a fact of life if you live in California (as my family does) and in many other parts of the world. My heart still hurts from memories of recent fires that have displaced families and destroyed communities in our state. Today, we woke to learn that a dynamic fire is burning the hillsides of the Getty Center, less than 4 miles from our home. This meant my 4-year old personally knows many people that are leaving their homes. She had a lot of new questions to add to our previous series of small conversations sparked from the three fires we had in Los Angeles recently.
A few weeks ago when the Saddleridge Fire started spreading, the strong smell of smoke hit us from the moment we stepped out the front door. As I have shared before, the best place to start these conversations is with whatever is on your child’s mind. I let her natural curiosity lead, answering her questions in a matter-of-fact, non-scary way.
She asked many questions starting with “What is that smell?” I answered directly and factually, “That is the smell of fire.” She then asked, “Where is the fire?” I responded that it was in our city far away but the winds are blowing the ash towards us. The final question and the one most pressing for her was, “Why do I have to stay inside?” I explained that her reactive airway disease made the air unsafe for her. But even children with healthy lungs had to stay inside. Then we negotiated over screen time and that conversation was over for now.
Fast forward to this morning, we watched the news on the Getty Fire and conversations have been centered around how we can help our friends. When some news footage showed a park she plays at, she said, “Mommy I know that park! My friend Logan and I play there. Is he ok? Did he evacuate? Does he have his LadyBugOut bag?” (Watching her mom build and grow this company for the past year, she now associates safety and security with the LadyBugOut bag 😉).
She wanted to know how if her friend Logan needed help, and how we could help. She knows that we have a community of friends around us that step in and support each other as needed: picking up friends’ kids when they had to evacuate their school for the Palisades fire last week, having playdates when parents are traveling for work, and offering our guest bed whenever someone needs it.
Preparation makes everyone, adults and children, safer and more confident, and that in turn makes the communities we live in more resilient.
Here are important tips to know to prepare for this wild wildfire season.
Evacuate: If asked to evacuate by authorities, then DO IT. The normal response is to think the risk is not real, and evacuation is not necessary for your own survival. However, by staying put when your neighbors are evacuating, you are creating an unnecessary burden on your community and putting neighbors who need help at risk. First Responders resources are limited, so we want them to spend valuable time on the most vulnerable populations who need help the most. If you must evacuate, your children may be scared and stressed. They have physical needs, yes, but they also have emotional needs. While you can help with their physical needs including clothing and medication, the best way to decrease their anxiety is to give them some control back. Let them choose what they want to pack in their bugout bag and honor those choices. Some chose sentimental items (stuffed animals, photos, loveys), some the toys of the moment (fidget toys, slime, Hatchimals, LEGOS), and others a hodgepodge (art, gum, etc). Universally all the children were happy to have had a voice in what comforted them.
Stay Indoors: If you haven’t been ordered to evacuate, stay indoors, close your windows and doors, and circulate your air. Avoid strenuous play and exercise. This is a great opportunity to get creative and have some indoor fun with your children.
Going Outdoors: IMPORTANT: Dust masks, surgical masks, bandanas and breathing through a wet cloth will *NOT* protect you or your children.
Adults: Limit your exposure outside. If you must go outside, adults should wear N95 masks that have a proper fit.
- Choose a “particulate respirator” that has been tested and approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It will have the words “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “P100” printed on it.
- Choose a respirator that has two (2) straps to go around your head.
- Choose a size that will fit over your nose and under your chin and seal tightly to your face. Any leakage around the edge of the mask causes unfiltered air to enter and be inhaled.
- Follow instructions on the package about how to check for a tight face seal.
Children: We at LadyBugOut initially thought a mask would be included in our bags. But upon further research we learned that respirators are not sized for children. During a wildfire smoke event the CDC recommends:
- Children Should *NOT* wear masks. The risk of infections and other complications is greater than the risk posed by the ash.
- Pay attention to air quality online. Follow instructions about exercise and going outside for “sensitive individuals.”
- Check for school closings.
- Think about evacuating if your child has trouble breathing or other symptoms that do not get better.
- If your child has severe trouble breathing, is very sleepy, or will not eat or drink, reduce their exposure to smoke and get medical help right away.
Talk With Your Children: By opening up a dialog and engaging with your child about natural disasters, you are not only decreasing their anxiety but building their confidence as well. The more conversations and practice your family partakes in, the more resilient you will be to tackle other unexpected life emergencies as well.