Veld fires are devastating in nearly every sense of the word. Residents from Somerset West in Cape Town can truly vouch for this, as they are still battling ongoing and fast spreading veld fires that broke out yesterday morning (January 3, 2017) and were raging out of control by the evening, fanned by strong winds.
Areas in Somerset West were evacuated on Tuesday evening after the fires damaged several homes in the area. Helicopters and fixed-wing planes were back on the scene in the early morning hours this morning, while firefighters were on duty overnight to douse the flames on the upper slopes of the mountain in Somerset West.
News24 quoted City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Theo Lane on Tuesday evening that helicopters had to be withdrawn due to the high winds and turbulence near the mountains.
By this morning the whole of the Cape Peninsula was covered by a blanket of thick smoke.
Fires can have a strong impact on local and regional air quality and overall population health. Widespread smoke pollution from forest fires can be a significant problem across long distances. Since veld fires spread quickly and can last weeks, air contamination from smoke is a real environmental concern. This contamination can often affect communities far from the fire. As the wind spreads the flames, so too does it disseminate the harmful smoke long distances.
How Fires Ruin Air Quality
Ben Vaughn writes on Environment.co.za that veld fires adversely affect air quality due to the large concentrations of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and other harmful chemicals present in the smoke. Since veld and forest fires consume a lot of trees and brush in a short amount of time, the air quickly becomes clogged and saturated with smoke and debris. This effect on air quality, of course, has a strong impact on humans and other animals, as well as the overall environment.
From living in proximity to a fire and having your home or life threatened to respiratory problems associated with the smoke emitted from fires, forest fires seriously compromise people’s overall wellbeing. Airborne matter from forest fires can be particularly harmful since it contains very fine particulate matter and high concentrations of chemicals that can cause respiratory problems and even lead to the development of cancers over time.
What can you do?
Taking simple precautions like wearing a special mask filter if you are in close proximity to a forest fire and adjusting ventilation in homes and vehicles appropriately to limit breathing large concentrations of particulates is a good idea. Disposable masks and ventilators alike can both be very effective ways to keep debris from entering the lungs. Of course once a fire breaks out, there is not a lot that can be done to clear the air in the short term; it takes a long time for the air to completely clear.
Get an Air Purifier!
Even if you seal yourself up in your home, tiny microscopic particles carried by the wind can seep into your house. An air purifier will capture the small particles that cause big respiratory problems.
If you own an air purifier and intend to use it to help your home recover from the onslaught of smoke and ash, you will first want to determine the state of the filters.
If necessary, you can move your air purifier from room to room during the day, but you should certainly try to eliminate the airborne smoke particulate in the bedrooms as soon as possible. Leave the air purifier off while you do a thorough cleaning - vacuuming, wiping all surfaces and windows clean of the fine smoke and ash dust - then turn the air purifier on high and let it remove what has been stirred up from the cleaning. Unfortunately, depending on what the wind carries in and how much rain you get, you may find it necessary to clean daily for a while.
If you have never owned an air purifier and are considering one to help your home recover, keep in mind that air purifier brands and models differ dramatically. So it’s best to check with a specialist which air purifier would best suit your application.