Wildfires: what you need to know and how to protect yourself from smoke

Forest Fires
Almost every day Yakutia is covered with acrid smoke making it impossible to breathe. The number of human settlements falling into the smoke zone this summer has exceeded a hundred, including Yakutsk. This article discusses where the smoke comes from, how to protect yourself from smoke, what to do if you see a fire in the forest, and where you can sign up as a volunteer to extinguish fires.

Why is there so much smoke in Yakutsk?

Smoke in Yakutsk occurs due to forest fires operating on the territory of nearby districts, such as Gorny, Khangalassky, Namsky. Smoke appears every time the wind direction changes. In addition, Yakutsk is covered with smoke from backfires, the main purpose of which is to clean the soil surface of all combustible materials.

Where can I find out about air quality?

You can find out about the air quality in real time on the Ykt.Ru portal in the main menu widget.

The widget shows the level of atmospheric pollution and the air quality index (AQI) in the city, according to the IQAir website. The index ranges from 0 to 500, where high values indicate the level of air pollution. The average value is from 50 to 100, the high value is from 150 to 500. All indicators on the widget are updated, as well as on the IQAir website, every two hours.

You can also learn about air quality:
on the websites of the Department of Rospotrebnadzor for the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia);
on the websites of the Federal State Budgetary Institution "Yakutskoye UGMS."

Why do IQAir and Rospotrebnadzor have different air quality indicators?

The IQAir website collects data on the concentration of PM2.5 solids in the air — a pollutant that is often called the most dangerous to human health.

The maximum permissible concentrations for PM2.5, according to WHO, are:
  • The average annual concentration is 10 mg/m3.
  • The average daily concentration is 25 mg/m3 (its excess should not last more than three days a year).

According to the Decree of the Chief State Sanitary Doctor of the Russian Federation dated 28 January 2021 No. 2 "On approval of sanitary-epidemiological rules and norms of SanPiN 1.2.3685-21 "Hygienic standards and requirements for ensuring the safety and (or) harmlessness of environmental factors for humans"", Maximum Permissible Concentrations (MPC) of suspended solids PM2.5 are:
  • The average annual rate is 25 mg/m3.
  • The daily average is 35 mg/m3.
  • The maximum single dose is 160 mg/m3.

According to these standards, if the concentration of suspended solids PM2.5 is 150 mg/m3, IQAir will report exceeding the WHO recommendations by 15 times. At the same time, Rospotrebnadzor will inform that the maximum one-time MPC has not been exceeded. This is due to the fact that IQAir compares its indicators with the average annual WHO recommendations.

How to behave in conditions of heavy smoke due to fires?

- Minimize the time spent outside as much as possible;
- Close windows and doors tightly, plug the gaps between doors and windows with a damp cloth, in the absence of tightness of windows and doors, make curtains of damp cloth;
- Humidify a room in a simple way - wet a towel or sheet and hang it on the door, change it every 2-4 hours, and wet dust as often as possible;
- In case of heavy smoke, use moistened protective masks while outdoors;
- Stay hydrated (drink mineral water, unsweetened rosehip or cowberry broth, green tea), young children should drink still water, and infants should increase the frequency of breastfeeding;
- In the absence of contraindications, it is recommended to take multivitamins, eat easily digestible foods rich in vitamins and minerals, have vegetables and fruits;
- People with chronic diseases of the respiratory system, cardiovascular system should strictly follow the recommendations of doctors, not to forget to take medications, if the disease worsens, immediately consult a doctor;
- It is better not to wear contact lenses in smoky weather because it can cause the deterioration of eyesight;
- Exclude additional physical activity in the open air due to the lack of oxygen outside;
- In case of severe malaise, insomnia, cough during smog, it is necessary to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

What should I do if I see a fire?

In case of uncontrolled spread of fire from the campfire, extinguish the flame with water, earth, sand, freshly torn branches of deciduous trees. If you feel the smell of smoke and the approach of fire, determine the direction of its spread. Warn everyone who is nearby about the danger and the need to leave the fire zone immediately.

Choose a safe route out of the forest. It is necessary to leave the danger zone only at right angles to the direction of movement of the fire. Cover your mouth and nose with a bandage (cloth, clothing). If possible, moisten your outer clothing with water. Cover your head and upper body with wet clothes.

Look for an opportunity to overcome the edge of the fire along roads, forest streams, and lakes. Walk while crouching to the ground. If you are surrounded by fire, urgently look for any body of water - a puddle, a swamp, a lake, and wait out the fire by entering the water and covering yourself with wet clothes.

In the absence of water, select the lowest area, clean it and the surrounding space. Stay away from rocks to avoid getting burned. Cover yourself with wet clothes. Stay away from the trees when you look for shelter.

If you have witnessed a forest fire, you can report it to:

the Regional Dispatch Service 8-4112-44-74-76;
the direct line of the Forest Protection Service: 8-800-100-94-00.

What if you want to be a volunteer?

The public institution "Volunteer Fire Department of Yakutia" is recruiting volunteers. Every resident of the republic who wants to become a volunteer can address all questions to: Yakutsk, Yaroslavsky Street, 24/2 or call 8 (4112) 43-55-73.

Those who intend to be trained in the course of training of volunteer firefighters can get advice from the Yakutsk Republican branch of the All-Russia Volunteer Fire Organization, 8 (4112) 43-59-75.
In addition, the autonomous non-profit organization "Volunteer Center" has launched a single call center where you can ask any questions about extinguishing forest fires, as well as contribute and organize assistance. Call 50-88-92 or 8 (914) 824-75-06.

You can also contribute to the fight against forest fires through the Public Headquarters in Yakutia, created to unite residents, social activists, and volunteers. It is located at the address: Yakutsk, Ordzhonikidze Street, 10, second floor, assembly hall (entrance to the former "Vityaz"). Working hours: 9:00-21:00. Call center: 8-914-824-75-06, 8-4112-50-88-92.

You can learn more about the work of the volunteer headquarters here.

Materials from the website of the Ministry of Emergency Situations were used in the preparation of the article, News.Ykt.Ru and from open sources.

The material was prepared by Sinet Spark within the framework of the Forest Fires project.