I live in Northern California about 1.5 hour drive from the largest, deadlines wildfire in the state’s history. The Camp Fire of Butte County destroyed the city of Paradise and is still raging on, even as I type this.
The damages of CampFire in as of the date of this writing are:
- 77 confirmed fatalities
- over 1,000 missing persons
- 151,000 acres (236 square miles) burned
- 15.573 structures destroyed
- 52,000 people under evacuation orders.
South of us the Woodsley & Hill Fires in Southern California are burning, causing three deaths and much structural damage.
The severity of wildfires has greatly increased over the years, and does not show any signs of slowing.
In 2017, California was plagued by:
- 9,133 fires
- 1,381,405 acres
- 47 deaths
- And 18 Billion in damages.
I want to take a moment to honor those that passed in these recent fires.
I want to thank the first responders, firefighters, police, nurses, doctors, prisoners, animal recursers and all the many volunteers that put their own lives on the line to save others.
And I want to send a quick warning to my fellow Californians.
If you ever feel in danger from a nearby wildfire, PLEASE do not hesitate to evacuate. Do NOT wait for authorities to give you the order. Just go. The minutes or hours you hesitate in evacating, could mean the difference between life and death.
If you have not already checked out my Emergency-to-go-bag article. Please check it out here.
As I type this millions of Californians are suffering from wildfire smoke inhalation. The air quality across the entire state is severely unhealthy. Large metropolitans like the San Francisco Bay Area and the capital of Sacramento have an AQI (Air Quality Index) hovering around the 300s or Hazardous levels for well over a week.
Schools have closed. Some companies are sending their employees home, especially if their employees work outdoors. People are suffering from headaches, nausea and vomiting.
It is important that everyone takes time to prepare their homes with items than can help them protect their health from wildfire smoke.
Dangers of Wildfire Smoke
Wildfire Smoke is no joke. It can hurt your eyes and irritate your respiratory system. Symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
It can worsen chronic heart and lung diseases such Asthma and COPD. Parts of the population that are at more risk of ill health due to smoke inhalation include:
- the elderly
- those with pre-existing cardiovascular or respiratory conditions
- pregnant women
- and people of low social economic status
Read on to discover tips on how to protect your health against wildfire smoke.
*this article may contain affiliate links. If you purchase an item from this blog, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you.
Check Your Local Air Quality
To check to see if the air quality is poor in your area, please go to airnow.gov and type in your zip code. This website is run by the National Environmental Protection Agency rates the air quality across the United States. Some people are also using companies like PurpleAir for AQI maps.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) has 6 categories.
- Good (0-50)
- Moderate (51-100) Acceptable, but some pollution may cause sensitivity
- USG (101-150) Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. People at higher risk lung and heart disease are at risk, while the general population may not be effect.
- Unhealthy (151-200) Everyone will experience ill health effects
- Very-unhealthy (201-300) Everyone may experience serious health effects.
- Hazardous (300+) Emergency conditions.
As of this writing, Chico, Yuba City, Marysville and Sacramento are in the Hazardous category. While much of California is Unhealthy to Moderate.
Avoid Going Outside
If the air quality index is above 51 for sensitive groups or 101 for healthy adults, you should avoid going outside for extended periods of time. Try to wear a mask if you do need to go outside. If you are not in a well sealed indoor location, you may want to start wearing you mask inside too.
Just because you do not see the air pollution does not mean it’s not there. Just because the smoke is not visible yet, does not mean the pollution has not arrived. Just because the smoke seems to be clearing and blue skies are back, does not mean pollution is not lingering. It is import to keep checking the air quality and acting accordingly.
City such as San Francisco are offering Air Quality Shelters at places like the Public Library. Museums are offering free admission for the public to escape the outside air.
Keep Your Indoor Pollution Low
Here are some tips for keeping your indoor pollution low:
- Keep all windows and door closed.
- Try running the auto fan option on your air conditioner to keep the air in the house recirculating.
- Avoid vacuuming which brings up a lot of dust.
- If you need to drive, please keep the cabin air recirculation on. If you smell smoke, turn your air off.
Wear The Right mask
Paper and surgical masks are good for protecting against large particles, but do not help for the small particles from wildfire pollution.
You must wear a mask rated N95 or N99, or a respirator rated P100.
Make sure your masks fit snugly against your face. A loose fitting mask lets in those tiny gas particles and become functionally useless.
Make sure to purchase the right size! For hygiene reasons, respirators are generally not returnable. So double check the manufacture’s return policy and sizing guidelines before purchasing.
Disposable N95 Masks
Grab a box or two of disposable N95 masks. These are great for yourselves, and your friends and family in need. Stores will sell out quickly in an emergency. Have some of these to give out or ship overnight to your loved ones in desperate need.
Reusable, Washable N95-N99 Masks
With climate change forever altering our daily lives, investing in long term solutions will benefit us. My husband and I recently invested in washable masks that can be reused.
We have Vogmasks that are:
- 3-6 month lifetime or longer
- In lots of fun colors and styles
- Filters 95-99% of all particles, dust, pollen, and contaminates for wildfires or air pollution
- 30 Day guarantee (Contact the manufacturer directly)
Avoid aerobic activity
Now is not the time to workout, go on a walk, or exert yourself in anyway that will open up your airways. Try to keep your activities limited.
Understandably going for over a week without exercise, may make your feel in more cramped in your quarters. Try gentle stretching or restorative yoga. A few squats, sit-up or push-ups won’t hurt. But as soon as your heart rate is up and you start breathing hard, it’s time to cool it down. Try taking longer breaks in-between reps.
Invest in a quality HEPA air purifier
Unfortunately, more smoke filled days are ahead of us. It would be wise for anyone living in a state suspectable to wildfire to consider buying a HEPA air purifer.
You will need an air purifier with a true medical HEPA filter that removes particles down to 0.3 microns. Avoid “ozone air purifiers” and “ionic air purifiers” as these are not effective at removing fine particulates.
When picking a purifier, look for Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR). This is a measurement of how many cubic feet of clean air the device produces each minute. It’s recommended that an air purifier has a CADR of at least two-thirds of the room’s square footage: a 120-square-foot room should have an air purifier with a CADR of 80 or above.
When my husband and I lived in San Francisco, we experienced some health problems thought to be caused by mold in our apartment. Our doctor recommend getting an Alen HEPA air filter.
We bought a 900 sqft foot Alen air purifier for our small apartment. It was a large investment of $600. But now I’m so glad we have it. We are keeping it on non-stop right now with the smokey air. We put it in our living room during the day, and our bedroom at night.
Purchase air purifying plants
Plants are nice for beautifying your home. But in these troubling times, they will also help filter and purify the air in your home.
So, how do houseplants clean the air? Plants absorb some of the particulates from the air at the same time that they take in carbon dioxide, which is then processed into oxygen through photosynthesis. But that’s not all—microorganisms associated with the plants are present in the potting soil, and these microbes are also responsible for much of the cleaning effect .
Here’s a list of air purifying plants:
- Spider Plant
- Ficus/Weeping Fig
- Peace Lily
- Boston Fern
- Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
- Bamboo Palm
- Aloe Vera (also a natural remedy for burns!)
Protect your eyes
To protect your eyes for smoke, you may want to wear goggles especially outside.
If your eyes are irritated try some chamomile tea. Chamomile is very soothing herb. It reduces swelling, inflammation and itching. Place a warm, wet chamomile tea bags over your eyes for 10-15 minutes. You may repeat every couple of hours.
Stay Hydrated & moisturize
Smoke can be very dehydrating. Drink more water than normal. Electrolyte light water is great for restoring your energy. Drinking your veggies in smoothies or powdered drinks can give you the extra kick you need.
Your skin is likely to get dry too. Apply moisturize to your face and body more often. Use chapstick often for pour shivered lips. It’s a great idea to bring some moisturize and lip balm with you if you are going to work.
Herbs for Lung Health
Below is a list of herbs for lung health:
- Plantain Leaf
- Licorice Root
- Marshmallow Root
You may find some of these herbs in teas you already have at home. In my home pantry, I found peppermint tea, Gypsy Cold Care and Throat Coat Teas which have licorice root and marshmallow root in them.
Also plantain leaf is naive to California and grows excessively everywhere. You probably thought it was a weed and treated it as such. But it’s a great anti-toxin, survival herb that is good for healing wounds too.
If you have essential oils you can try defusing eucalyptus, peppermint or oregano. My family uses Young Living essential oils. We have been heavily using Breathe Again and R.C. to help our lungs.
Escape to better air
If you have transportation and are able to escape an area with better air quality, try getting away as long as you can. Even one day may help your physical and mental health. Go for hike somewhere beautiful, un-touched by the haze.
Share your wealth. Please bring a friend without the means of transportation with you. In times like this the importance of friendship and community means everything. It means survival.
The unfortunate truth is that pollution from wildfire smoke may continue to plague California and much of the West Coast. By taking the time now to protect your health and your loved ones, you are saving your future and your time together.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope it helps you. Please past it on to friends and family affect by wildfire smoke.