The Stress of Fire Season

Jennifer Arnold by Jennifer Arnold Additional Needs

Jennifer Arnold

Jennifer Arnold

I’m passionate about raising awareness about disability issues through education and outreach. When I’m not wearing my writer hat, I’m usually tryi...

I could smell it as soon as I opened the front door, and I could see it laying heavy in the sky. Thick, grey smoke that meant that there was a wildfire somewhere close. Not close enough to worry, but close enough for the wind to carry the smoke right over us.

It’s a familiar smell here in Northern California in the summer, as peak fire season runs from August to November, give or take a couple of months. Many people living here are still traumatized by the fires that swept through the state in 2017 and 2018. My in-laws lost their home in one of those fires, and then the next year, one-third of my town was decimated by a fire tornado, a rare phenomenon I hope never to see again in my lifetime.

Our family has an added reason to be anxious during times like these.

Our 9-year-old son, Chance, has chronic lung disease, so in addition to the stress of the Cold and Flu Season in the winter, we now have to worry about the fire season. Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, especially for children, older adults, and especially in our case for our little guy with compromised lungs.

The air quality was so bad in the summer of 2018 from the numerous back-to-back wildfires in our area that Chance ended up being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. We had an air purifier in the house, and we wore masks each time we had to go outside. We did extra breathing treatments and kept him well hydrated. We did all the things, and he still got sick. To say it was frustrating and scary would be an understatement.

It turns out we weren’t alone.

According to the American Lung Association, “studies of children in California found that children who breathed the smoky air during wildfires had more coughing, wheezing, bronchitis, colds, and were more likely to have to go to the doctor or the hospital for respiratory causes, especially from asthma.”

So now every time there is smoke outside so thick, I can taste it, I go straight into a state of hypervigilance.

All windows closed, air purifier on. We have central air conditioning now as opposed to the swamp cooler we had in our previous house, which makes a world of difference in keeping the smoke out.

Fire season is something I have had to adapt to, although I’ll never get used to it. Like cold and flu season, it’s one more thing we have had to accept, and do the best we can to get through it.

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