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California Residents Report Injuries from Smoke Inhalation, Burns and Shortness of Breath


California has been dealing with one of the most destructive and deadly fire seasons in its history. With these wine country wildfires have come significant health hazards and injuries, including smoke inhalation, burns from the flames, and inhalation of toxic ash and fumes. In the aftermath of the Northern California wildfires, residents and local officials are starting to calculate the toll on the region’s health.

More than 100 people have been treated at local area hospitals for fire-related injuries, including burns, shortness of breath and smoke inhalation.

Wildfires Create Smoke Inhalation Hazards.

As the wildfires consumed acres of vegetation, buildings and homes, they also released huge amounts of smoke into the atmosphere, leaving the air thick with debris and leaving surfaces covered in a thick layer of toxic ash. Everyone in the region—from professional firefighters and cleanup crews, to private citizens and residents—are finding that their breathing is being impacted by the air and ash.

The most pressing concern of smoke inhalation, according to doctors, is the ingestion of “particulate matter”—or the soot and ash that are prevalent in smoke. Most of this particulate matter is miniscule dust and ash that is invisible to the human eye, and it’s so small that it can break through the body’s natural filtration system. Once it’s ingested into the body, it can infiltrate deep into a person’s lungs—and even their bloodstream.

Effects of smoke inhalation on your health can include:

  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Elevated heart rate;
  • Sinus infection-like symptoms, including headaches, sore throat and runny nose;
  • Asthma symptoms, like coughing and wheezing;
  • Elevated risk of heart attack;
  • Bronchitis;
  • Pneumonia;
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease;
  • And even premature death.

Health experts are warning that the ash and particulate matter in the area after the California wildfires can cause permanent damage to your lungs. This risk is particularly acute for pregnant women, as the particulate matter can cause premature birth and low birth weight in infants. The elderly and children are also particularly prone to health risks from smoke inhalation. Because their bodies are smaller, children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults into their still-developing lungs, leading to elevated risk of infection and injury in children.

Dangerous Toxins in the Air Add to Health Risk.

In addition to the particulate matter, the smoke from the wildfires also includes dangerous levels of toxins. These include pesticides, propane, gasoline, paint, and plastics. Burning electronics from houses and business contain lead and mercury, and treated wood from residential structures are burning off dangerous heavy metals like copper, chromium, arsenic, and mercury. In older structures, the flames burned asbestos insulation, leaving asbestos particles circulating in the air.

What to Do to Protect Your Health.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), residents should protect themselves from smoke inhalation hazards and from the side effects of ash toxins. Everyone should take precautions for the health of their lungs, including:

  • Maintain smoke-free indoor areas with clean air from ventilation systems. Adjust your air conditioning system to recirculate air from the inside, instead of bringing outside air into your home or car. Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Keep the air inside clean by not smoking, burning candles, or running the vacuum.
  • If you go outside, wear a mask or respirator that will protect your lungs from harmful toxins and particulate ash in the air.
  • If you do go outside, change your clothes immediately.
  • If you believe that your ability to breath has been affected by the air, consult your doctor immediately.

The Napa County Public Health Director also urged residents to take precaution if they return home, stating that people should protect their eyes, lungs and skin with proper equipment.

Consult an Attorney.

Ultimately, if you’re concerned that you’ve been injured by the California wildfires, you should consult an attorney. Victims of fire-related injuries may be able to make a claim for compensation, if another party’s wrongful act or negligence was a cause of your injuries. Although the official investigation into these fires remains ongoing, initial review indicates that the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric (“PG&E”) may have negligently maintained its power lines, which directly led to the sparking of the wildfires.

Our team of attorneys is deeply experienced in personal injury claims resulting from disasters like the California wildfires. If you, or a member of your family, is suffering from a serious a burn, fire-related injury or smoke inhalation, our team of attorneys can help you understand your options for seeking compensation. We have a strong track record of recovering compensation or our clients for injuries caused by fire negligence, including severe burns, injury from smoke inhalation, and longer-term health issues caused by fire.


California Residents Report Injuries from Smoke Inhalation, Burns and Shortness of Breath
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