Despite a mild season, the state Department of Health is reminding Washingtonians that it is still wildfire season — and there are different ways that people can protect loved ones from wildfire smoke.
“When it does get smoky outside, the best way to protect everyone, including pets, is to stay inside and keep indoor air as clean as possible,” said a news release from the department.
Exposure to wildfire smoke isn’t safe for anyone, but especially for those with pre-existing health conditions. According to the DOH, symptoms of smoke exposure — which can range from minor to severe — are burning eyes, coughing, irritation in the throat and nose, headaches, fatigue, wheezing and shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat and chest pain.
The DOH strongly encourages the following steps to be ready for wildfire smoke.
• Check current and forecasted wildfire and smoke conditions on the Washington Smoke blog, which monitors air quality across the state: A “partnership between state, county, and federal agencies, and Indian Tribes,” the Washington Smoke blog features an up-to-date interactive map of smoke conditions and active wildfires throughout the state. The blog also keeps Washingtonians informed thanks to various links that update “local smoke outlooks,” “fire information” and “health information.” The blog can be found at www.wasmoke.blogspot.com and a Spanish version of the blog is also available.
• Buy a HEPA portable air cleaner, which will filter out smoke and help create a cleaner air room you can spend time in when it’s smoky outside: The DOH doesn’t give a specific brand to buy, but instead gives information that helps Washingtonians create a “clean room,” which would keep a room that’s big enough for everyone in the home from the effects of wildfire smoke. The guide says that a clean room in the home must have closed windows and doors, have fans or air conditioning to keep cool and have a way to filter the air in the room, along with other instructions to stay safe from any smoke. The PDF can be found at www.airnow.gov/sites/default/files/2022-02/how-to-create-a-clean-room-at-home.pdf.
• You can also make a DIY box fan filter as a lower cost option. It’s key to plan ahead and buy supplies in advance because they often sell out quickly when it’s smoky out: Also known as the “Corsi-Rosenthal box fan filter,” a handmade air filter can be made using a newer 20-inch-by-20-inch box fan, MERV 13 or FPR 10 filters that fit the dimensions of the box fan, a power drill, screws and brackets to hold it all together. The DOH references the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency website with an instructional video and tips to build an air filter at home. Additional research is encouraged before buying supplies, especially on MERV 13 or FPR 10 filters.
• It can be difficult to stay cool inside when windows are closed. Be prepared by learning how to cool indoor spaces without air conditioning: In the wake of the extreme heat wave throughout the Pacific Northwest in June 2021, a study was conducted on passive cooling techniques that provides ways to keep temperatures down in homes without the use of air conditioning. Simple ways to stay cool without air conditioning or opening the windows when there’s smoke in the air is limiting the use of electronics, shading sun-facing windows throughout the day, unshading windows once the sun is no longer hitting the windows and positioning portable fans at knee level or higher. It’s important to note that fans will only provide cooling when the air temperature is below 99 degrees Fahrenheit, or body temperature.
For more information, visit the DOH Smoke From Fires webpage at doh.wa.gov/community-and-environment/air-quality/smoke-fires.