California’s wildfires have ripped across the state with a unusually high fervor this season. This latest series of fires have engulfed thousands of acres of personal property and have shown no sign of slowing down.
While the fires themselves can do massive amounts of property damage and wipe out devastating amounts of vegetation, the number one killer of people isn’t fire — it’s smoke inhalation.
Smoke inhalation is what happens when people who are around or in a fire breath in the contents of combustion during a fire. Combustion is the process in which the material being burnt suffers rapid breakdown of molecular structure from intense heat. Combustion is also a fancy way of saying something is burning.
Smoke is often a mixture of heated air particles and other gases as well as debris in some cases. The exact composition of what’s in smoke varies from whatever is the substance being burnt. This can include the temperature of the fire, the amount of oxygen available to make the fire burnt and whatever is being burnt.
What makes smoke inhalation so dangerous
Smoke inhalation can damage the body through various conditions, but most commonly through simple asphyxiation — which is another way of saying a lack of oxygen. There are also the conditions of chemical or thermal irritation, chemical asphyxiation and then a combination of two or all of these factors.
Simple asphyxiation happens when something burns so hot it starts to use up all the oxygen in a given area. When fire and heat suck up all the oxygen around you and leave nothing else left to breathe, that process leads to death. The smoke in these wildfires can contain particles of ash which can damage your lungs, but often a normal, garden-variety fire won’t contain much in it to harm you. It’s only when it sucks up the oxygen around you and leaves you with nothing else left to breathe.
Combustion, depending on where it’s happening, can form a number of chemicals which can cause harm if it comes in direct contact with your skin or mucous membranes. These chemicals and foreign substances can cause massive damage to the inner lining of your respiratory tract. The results of these chemicals invading your body can result in swelling, airway collapse and extreme respiratory distress.
Examples of the kinds of chemicals you will find in these smoke clusters are sulfur dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen chloride and chlorine. The thermal damage from the hot air can also cause damage to your insides.
Chemical asphyxiants are produced by wildfires when coming into contact with substances that when burned will produce harmful gasses. These compounds can interfere with your body’s oxygen use at the cellular level. Carbon Monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide are all examples of chemicals produced in fires that interfere with the use of a cell’s oxygen levels.
If there is any kind of interruption in the delivery of use of oxygen by a cell, the cell will die. Carbon monoxide is the number one cause of death when it comes to smoke inhalation.
Signs and symptoms of smoke inhalation
There are many signs and symptoms of what smoke inhalation can do to your body. Some are obvious, but others are not quite as subtle. If you or a loved one have been in or around one of these California wildfires, look for any of these signs to know for sure intense smoke inhalation has occurred:
Cough: This one should probably go without saying. When Mucous membranes on the resonators tracts of the lungs get irritated, they will produce more mucus. Bronchospasm and the increased production of mucus will lead to a reflex we call coughing. The mucus that comes out of the mouth can be clear but in the case of smoke inhalation could be black. Black mucus could be the result of ash or burned particles coming from the lungs or trachea.
Shortness of Breath: If you or a loved one has trouble breathing, it could be a direct result of injury to the respiratory tract which in turns means less oxygen is getting into your bus. The blood is going to have decreased oxygen-carrying capacity to begin with, and this could be a result of chemicals in the smoke or the inability of the calls to sue oxygen. The body’s natural response is going to be rapid breathing to try and compensate for these weakened systems.
Noisy Breathing: If you or a loved one has wheezy sounds as a result of breathing, this could be a result of fluids collecting on the upper airway where there may be blockages. These same chemicals may irritate vocal cords, cause spasms in those muscles, swelling and will constrict the upper airways.
Red eyes: Ash and hot air can cause your eyes to become red and irritated. Extreme cases can see your corneas burned and irritated.
Skin burns: Your skin can become a bright red or even bluish if it’s not getting enough oxygen.
Soot in your mucus: If you’ve blown your nose and you see a lot of black particles, you’ve inhaled smoke. This can cause increased irritation in the nostrils and more swelling in the nasal passages.
Headaches: If you or a loved one have experienced migraine headaches as a result of being exposed to smoke caused by California wildfires, there’s a strong chance you’ve inhaled a large amount of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting those who suffer from it.
Mental changes: When your brain is deprived of oxygen and is exposed to chemicals, it can change the behavior in one person. These behaviors changes can come in the forms of confusion, fainting, seizures and comas.
If you or a loved one has suffered from any of these symptoms, you need to call 911 immediately and get checked out by a medical doctor.
Call a California Wildfire protection attorney today
These wildfires are no accident — those responsible for starting and exacerbating these fires can and should be held responsible. If you’ve suffered from smoke inhalation and the medical bills to treat it are piling up, you need to call an attorney to help you get the compensation you deserve.
The attorneys at The Sargent Firm Injury Lawyers are experienced in litigating fire damages and smoke damages all across California. They will help you too — your consultation is free and requires no obligation.
You pay no fees unless you win — call California fire damage attorney Ryan Sargent today!