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Wildfires and Air Quality: Know the Risks Inside and Out

Wildfire air pollution has a broad reach and severe health consequences. While asthma and allergy sufferers might bear the brunt of elevated wildfire smoke levels, everyone is affected. For homeowners in seasonally at-risk parts of the country, it’s important to understand the effects of poor air quality from forest fires outside and in your home.

How Dangerous is Wildfire Smoke? 

Wildfire smoke is a volatile mix of organic and non-organic particles that the wind can spread over vast areas. Wildfire smoke is comprised of:

  • Gaseous pollutants like carbon monoxide.
  • Hazardous air pollutants, including several known carcinogens.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also present in oil and coal.
  • Particle pollution caused by small particles that can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Fine particles can enter and irritate the lungs.

Several recent studies have reinforced the link between wildfire smoke exposure and respiratory health issues. Elevated wildfire air pollution levels mimic urban air pollution, although the effects are significantly reduced by the relatively short period of exposure.

A Burning Problem 

Unfortunately, compromised air quality from wildfires could be a growing issue in some parts of the country. Climate change has increased the frequency and severity of wildfires. The number of large fires doubled between 1984 and 2015, and we’ve seen wildfires scorch more than 1.2 million hectares per year annually since 2016.

Related: Our Complete Guide to Indoor Air Quality

How Do Wildfires Impact Air Quality? 

The irritating and often toxic mix of chemicals in wildfire smoke lower air quality near the blaze and, in certain conditions, communities thousands of miles away. Smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire traveled hundreds of miles south and caused poor air quality in metropolitan San Francisco and Oakland. The fire is considered the deadliest, most destructive fire in California’s history.

How to Improve Air Quality During Wildfire at Home 

In most parts of the US, local health and safety agencies provide air advisories to protect residents from forest fires. Always follow local recommendations, including the need to evacuate your home. If you can remain at home safely, minimize the health risks posed by wildfires by following these tips:

  • Stay inside as much as possible to reduce exposure.
  • Seal any cracks or joints in doors or windows.
  • Close windows and doors.
  • Consider showering and washing your clothes upon returning home to remove particles from your hair and clothing.

Monitoring Wildfire Pollution 

One of the most effective ways to protect your family is to monitor wildfire smoke levels. Tools like AirNow.gov provide real-time data and forecasts to anticipate smoke levels near fires and downwind. These models usually predict the density of smoke as it moves, which can help you anticipate changing pollution levels and help determine the best time to venture outdoors if you need to.

Do I Need an Air Purifier for Wildfire Smoke? 

Portable air purifiers can help mitigate the risk posed by wildfire smoke. Individuals with underlying respiratory issues may benefit more from using an air purifier. Don’t forget about your HVAC system, too. Make sure you start wildfire season with a new air filter and consider replacing it sooner than normal if pollution is high near you.

Take a Deep Breath, Then Call One Hour 

Wildfire season is scary enough. Make sure your family is safe and comfortable with professional indoor air quality services offered by your local One Hour location. Count on fast, experienced technicians who can make smart recommendations to improve your home’s air quality, no matter what. Book an appointment or call (800) 893-3523 today.

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