Air Quality and Wildfire
How can I find out about smoke in my area?
AirNow is a multi-agency website run by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that reports air quality. Check the Air Quality Index (AQI) for current air quality in your area. The AQI is used to report information about the most common air pollutants, including particulate matter (PM2.5 or PM10) and ozone. You can also see the location of fires, the path of smoke plumes, and local air quality information on the AirNow website, under "Current Fire Conditions".
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses radar data to produce high resolution smoke maps.
A number of mobile apps will combine data from AirNow and other sources to give you a localized report about air quality, and can provide alerts. While UC does not recommend a specific app, a few examples are Plume, AirVisual, and BreezoMeter.
How can I reduce exposure to wildfire smoke?
Staying inside in a safe place with the doors and windows closed can usually reduce exposure to air pollution by at least a third or more. If you have central air conditioning set it to re-circulate or close outdoor air intakes. Consider upgrading your filter to a HEPA filter with the highest MERV rating. If you do not have AC or another air filtration system, consider heading to a library, movie theater, mall, or other indoor public space. Reduce indoor air pollution: avoid smoking cigarettes, using propane and wood-burning stoves, frying or broiling meat, burning candles and incense or using aerosols, and vacuuming. After smoke exposure, use cleaning practices that reduce stirring up ash and dust including damp mopping, damp dusting and using a high efficiency particulate air [HEPA] filter-equipped vacuum.
Portable air cleaners using HEPA filters and ElectroStatic Precipitators (ESPs) can help reduce indoor particle levels, provided doors and windows are kept shut. California Air Resources Board maintains a list of portable air cleaners that are certified by the State to not emit excess ozone.
Should I wear a mask?
Respirator masks can be effective in reducing exposure to smoke particles, however they are not as effective as reducing exposure through staying indoors with doors and windows closed, reducing activity, and using HEPA air cleaners.
Surgical masks, dust masks, and bandanas or other face coverings do not offer protection from particle pollution.
Visit AirNow For information on using masks for wildfire smoke.
What is smoke?
Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. They can then become respiratory irritants, and exposure to high concentrations can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Exposure to fine particles can affect healthy people, causing respiratory symptoms. In addition, they may also reduce the body's ability to deal with other air contaminants, such as pollen and germs. Very fine particles can affect heart health.
Sensitive individuals, including young children and the elderly, should consider relocating to less impacted area. If you have asthma or lung or cardiovascular disease follow your healthcare provider’s directions. Have at least a five-day supply of medication on hand. If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, dial 9-1-1 as soon as possible, knowing that response time may be increased.