Submitted by the Whatcom County Health Department

It may not be smoky here yet, but with record-high temperatures and wildfires already scorching the West, you can likely expect smoky skies soon.

Wildfire smoke is hazardous to everyone’s health, but certain groups are at higher risk of adverse effects from wildfire smokes. These groups include:

  • Children under 18
  • Adults over 65
  • People with heart or lung disease, such as asthma or COPD
  • People with respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19
  • Pregnant women
  • Smokers

Don’t wait until the smoke settles to prepare. Here’s what you should do now to get ready for wildfire smoke:

Stay Up-To-Date on Air Quality Conditions

It’s important to know how good (or bad) the air quality is outside. The Washington Smoke Blog has a color-coded air quality map showing air quality levels across the state. You can also get up-to-date air quality reports from the Northwest Clean Air Agency.

Both of these maps use the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) categories, which rate air quality according to the concentration of certain air pollutants. The color-coded categories range from Good (green) to Hazardous (dark red). The Department of Ecology has more information about WAQA categories.

Filter Your Indoor Air

You’ll want to be sure the air you’re breathing in your home is clean when the air outside is not. Designate at least one room as a clean air space. There are a few ways to keep the air in that space clean:

  • If you can afford to, buy an air purifier with a HEPA-equivalent air filter. 
  • If you have air conditioning, set it to re-circulate. Do the same for your car. 
  • Make a box-fan filter. All you need is a standard 20-inch box fan and a 20-inch MERV13 filter. Tape the filter to the fan. Get a few filters so you can change them out when they get dirty. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has instructions for making a DIY filter fan.

Stock Up on Necessary Medication

If you or a family member has a heart or lung condition such as COPD or asthma, talk to your healthcare provider about what precautions you need to take when it’s very smoky outside. Stock up on necessary medications, learn how to manage any symptoms and know when to seek medical care. 

Buy Some Board Games

Plan on spending lots of time indoors when it’s very smoky outside. The air inside your home will be much cleaner than the air outside. Limit outdoor activity as much as possible. If you must go outside, avoid strenuous activity.

Plan An Escape Route

If possible, you may consider getting out of town when it’s very smoky. Make plans in advance – talk with relatives, gather your medications, make arrangements for any pets. Check the air quality report for the place you plan to travel to.

If You Must Go Outside, Use The Right Mask the Right Way

Thanks to the pandemic, most of us have a mask or face covering available. But most masks won’t protect you from smoke. Only N95 or N100 masks can protect you from the fine particles in smoke, and only when worn correctly. But they don’t work for everyone. Children and people with beards will not benefit from N95 or N100 masks.

The best way to protect yourself from smoke is to stay indoors. Only wear N95 or N100 masks after trying other, better options. Like other masks, N95s should fit snugly over your nose and mouth, without gaps. Learn how to properly wear masks here

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