Wildfires: Information and Resources for Preparedness, Response and Recovery

California’s fall fire season started on Oct. 1, and after only a week, more than a dozen wildfires raged across Northern California. California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued an emergency proclamation for Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Solano, Sonoma and Yuba counties and activated the State Operations Center. On Oct. 10, the President approved California Disaster Declaration to support the state and local response. Local health departments are on the forefront of responding to natural disasters like wildfires, and dedicated staff are on call 24-hours a day, every day, to respond when needed.

Local Health Departments’ Role in Wildfire Response

During wildfires, public health has a critical role in response and helping communities recover. Local health departments (LHDs) are responsible for advising emergency management and state and local authorities on the health impacts of wildfires to inform and support response actions (e.g., residential and healthcare evacuations, air quality assessments).  LHDs communicate with the public about the health risks of smoke and recommended actions to protect their health. Additionally, LHDs provide staff and resources to support evacuation centers and shelters for those displaced by the wildfires.

Situation Report

On Oct. 8, multiple fires broke out throughout Northern California; due to the state’s vast drought, low humidity and high winds over 60 miles per hour, fires grew rapidly and uncontrollably, burning more than 115,000 acres and forcing more than 20,000 people to evacuate their homes. Many healthcare facilities, including hospitals and skilled nursing facilities have been affected. Two hospitals in Santa Rosa were evacuated and as of Oct. 12, 23 deaths have been reported. Information and support hotlines have been set up across several agencies. As of Oct. 17, 50 percent of fires are contained, there are 41 confirmed deaths, 200 missing and more than 90,000 in shelters.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has deployed hundreds of firefighters and personnel to the affected areas and are frequently updating their incident information website. Local officials in Northern California have issued advisories and press releases with specific instructions and information on health effects, evacuations, and emergency centers. Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the air pollution control agency for counties around San Francisco Bay, has issued health and smoke advisories, urging its residents to protect their health due to the unprecedented levels of air pollution from the wildfires. For more information on the specific counties, visit the following county resources:

Health Impacts

Wildfires can create widespread threats to public health and the environment. Smoke, ash, toxins, and dust can affect air quality. Wildfire smoke contains a mixture of chemical, gases and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is the main pollutant of concern in smoke since it can penetrate deep into the lungs. Smoke inhalation can cause immediate health effects, like coughing, stinging eyes, scratchy throat and trouble breathing normally, and can also lead to heart attacks, strokes and severe respiratory effects, including asthma attacks and acute bronchitis. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children are most at risk. Susceptible individuals also include pregnant women, newborns and people with obesity or diabetes.

Resources

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) is activated for the California wildfire events to provide assistance and support to LHDs during their response and recovery efforts. We extend our gratitude and support to the firefighters, first responders, public health, emergency management, healthcare professionals and other partners and individuals who are working around the clock to contain these fires and to help their communities. NACCHO has compiled a list of resources to help affected LHDs, healthcare professionals, first responders and the general public to respond to and recover from these events.

Response

  • Resources for LHDs

Risk and Emergency Communications

Emergency Shelters

Mental/Behavioral Health

Recovery and Clean-up

As part of NACCHO’s activation for the California wildfires, we are participating in regular situational awareness briefings with federal agencies, national associations, and private sector partners. We are sharing information and resources with local health departments, as needed. We will continue to update this website as new information becomes available. LHDs with questions or other needs related to the wildfires should contact NACCHO’s Preparedness team at preparedness@naccho.org.

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