As California’s Wine Country deals with the prospect that the toll will rise more and the largely unchecked blazes will wreak greater havoc, doctors and hospitals have struggled with patient evacuations and the destruction of medical facilities. Millions of residents are coping with noxious smoke, terrible air quality, and breathing woes.
The Golden State crisis should offer a tough reminder to all of us in the rest of the country: Fire dangers remain real and lethal, last year alone killing 3,390 Americans, injuring 14,650, and causing an estimated $10.6 billion. Families should not only do what they can to fire-proof their residences, they also should make emergency plans and practice them periodically.
Seniors may be at heightened risk, and they, their friends and loved ones, should make special precautions to safeguard them, planning for dire circumstance.
In Sonoma County, a scenic area that has become a haven for more affluent retirees, the wildfire deaths have hit hard among older residents, with the average age of the dozen or so victims in this hard-hit Wine Country county being 79. The “youngest” victim was 57, while the oldest was a centurion.
Firefighters, survivors, and journalists say the Wine Country blazes have been so lethal for many reasons, not the least being that they spread so fast. Seasonal conditions cause powerful winds to gust across California at speeds of 40 mph and more, and these ember-containing blasts meant that swaths of homes and businesses were engulfed by fire in a snap. A sudden break this year in the West’s long drought, with earlier heavier rains, has meant that natural fuels were plentiful.
Some of the most painful news photographs from the Wine Country have focused on patients fleeing from hospitals and nursing homes as walls of fire surround them. News stories have told heart-wrenching stories of seniors, trapped, and struggling to stay alive or succumbing to roaring fire.
In a situation that’s also common in exurban areas surrounding the nation’s capital, emergency preparedness experts and planners also are raising questions anew about overdevelopment in the trendy and popular Wine Country—especially in fire-prone zones.
In my practice, I see the huge harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services and the pain and suffering they endure due to car, truck, and motorcycle wrecks. Medical science has made advances but burn care, especially with injuries covering 20 percent or more of the body, can be tough, painful, and slow. It’s a treatment best avoided at all costs.
Building codes and inspections have helped reduce some fire risk. But renters and homeowners need to take what steps they can to avert dangers, too. Smoke and CO2 alarms should be checked and their batteries, if needed, should be replaced regularly. Use great caution with heating devices, especially as the weather cools. Be careful with electrical overloads. There are other good suggestions on fire safety available by clicking here.
Meantime, we’ll all keep our fingers crossed and pitch in as we can to assist our fellow Americans as they try to recover from the Western wildfires, the Las Vegas mass shooting, and hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean isles, Texas, and Florida. What a terrible year this has been so far.