As California battles wildfires, officials outline how to protect yourself and your family from damaging smoke
SACRAMENTO – With the increase in wildfire activity across California this month, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is urging everyone to be Smoke Ready.
Right now, crews are battling eleven major wildfires across the state that have burned over a million acres so far. Compared to this same time last year, California has seen an astounding 136 percent increase in total acres burned. As this wildfire activity intensifies, so too does the smoke that comes with it.
Wildfire smoke can travel into communities that are hundreds of miles from the flames.It can contain a range of harmful air pollutants, from known cancer-causing substances to tiny particles that can aggravate existing health problems and increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and symptoms of asthma.
Wildfire smoke can be especially dangerous for sensitive groups including children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with heart or respiratory conditions. Health problems related to wildfire smoke exposure can be as mild as eye and respiratory tract irritation and as serious as worsening of heart and lung disease, including asthma.
There are several steps Californians can take now to stay safe during wildfire smoke events.
Check Local Air Quality – Air Quality changes by the minute during wildfires. Stay up to date with the latest information about wildfire smoke from air monitors & sensors near you. For near real-time updates, visit the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map (also available in the AirNow mobile app).
Stay Indoors – The single most effective way to protect yourself from smoke is to stay inside with windows and doors closed.
Keep Indoor Air Clean – If you have central air conditioning, install a clean air filter. Use an air filter with a MERV rating as high as your air conditioning system can handle (check the user’s manual or contact the manufacturer or installer). Air filters with a MERV rating of 13 or higher can remove more than 85 percent of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Filters may need to be replaced more frequently during fire season.
Use a CARB-certified air cleaner which can greatly improve indoor air quality and reduce impacts from smoke. Do not run swamp coolers or whole house fans. Central air conditioners and window air conditioners should be operated in “recirculate” mode.
Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution such as smoking, burning candles, vacuuming, and cooking without using the range hood.
If available, use local clean air centers – If you are unable to improve the indoor air quality at home during wildfire smoke events, check with local authorities to see if clean air centers or shelters are open in your community.
Wear an N95 Mask – While cloth face coverings offer protection against spreading COVID-19, they do not provide protection against smoke particles. People who must be outdoors for long periods, in areas with heavy smoke, or where ash is disturbed, may want to wear a NIOSH-certified N95 respirator mask. Choose a size and model that fits your face and has no gaps. Always do a seal check to make sure your N95 mask fits properly.
Construct a Temporary Box Fan Filter – These devices should be used with extreme caution, and only if other air cleaning options are unavailable. Never leave the device unattended. Only use box fans manufactured in or after 2012 that have the UL or Intertek safety mark:
These fans will have a fused plug, which will prevent electrical fires if the device is knocked over.
Use Common Sense – If it looks or smells smoky outside, avoid exercising or doing strenuous activity outdoors. Limit the amount of time children – especially those with asthma – spend outside. If you are active outdoors, pay attention to any symptoms, which could be an indication that you need to get out of the smoke.
Always follow evacuation orders – In the event of an evacuation, make sure to operate your vehicle with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner set to recirculate. Visit Ready for Wildfire for more information on how to prepare now for potential evacuations.
With wildfire season in California extending well into the fall in recent years, it’s never too late to start taking steps to be Smoke Ready.