Fire in California
University of California
Fire in California

Air Quality and Wildfire

How can I find out about smoke in my area?

NOAA HRRR Smoke imagery Nov. 9 2018
NOAA HRRR Smoke imagery Nov. 9 2018
The California Air Resources Board protects air quality through Air Pollution Control Districts (APCD) and Air Quality Management Districts (AQMD). You can find local air quality information and see if smoke advisories or alerts have been issued.

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. 

Respirator masks should be properly fitted.
Respirator masks should be properly fitted.
Reduce physical activity during a smoke event until you can get to a safe location. During exercise, people increase their air intake as much as 10 to 20 times, which can bring more pollution deep into the lungs.

 

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.

A surgical mask will not protect you from smoke.
A surgical mask will not protect you from smoke.
For adults, masks labelled NIOSH N95 or P100, commonly available at hardware stores, have been shown to filter particles. They must fit properly to be effective. They may not fit small children properly, and are not as effective as staying out of the smoke, indoors or out of the affected area.

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?

Wall of smoke from the Woolsey Fire as seen from Ventura, 11_9_2018
Wall of smoke from the Woolsey Fire as seen from Ventura, 11_9_2018
Smoke is a complex mixture of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particles, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, and trace minerals. While wildfire smoke may be primarily “natural”, the result of vegetation burning, when structures, agricultural fields, and other kinds of products (trash from municipal dumps or commercial manufacturing, for example) burn, there are other chemical constituents from plastic and other materials that add to health effects. 

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.

Webmaster Email: rpsatomi@ucanr.edu