Protect Yourself & Your Property from Smoke This Wildfire Season
Since this year’s wildfire season began in the Western U.S. and into Canada, the presence of smoke in seemingly unlikely areas across the country has drawn the attention of Americans as well as the media.
Where typically we might see images of ashy skies and smokey sunsets in our own region, both the media and our online friends have been quick to share overcast-looking images from regions as far as the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard. The captions of the images point out, “This isn’t a foggy day. This is smoke!”
One particular series of images and videos show the Manhattan skyline blanketed in smoke along with news that the Air Quality Index (AQI) for fine particulate matter in the air had reached nearly 160 – all due to wildfires in the West.
While the long-distance travel potential of wildfire smoke may be surprising to some, it’s certainly not surprising to wildfire experts. In fact, just last year during what was considered one of the worst wildfire seasons in decades, smoke from wildfires in the Western U.S. drifted through the atmosphere for nearly 5,000 miles.
Even at such a distance, smoke can be harmful to young children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with respiratory and heart disease. Imagine the effect smoke can have on both health and property when its source is less than a tank of gas away!
As we at SERVPRO of Bend are experts in smoke damage and odor remediation, we wanted to offer you some expert advice about protecting your body and property from wildfire smoke. But first, let’s take a look at how air quality is measured.
A Little About the Air Quality Index (AQI)
If a wildfire is close enough to threaten your property, or even just a few miles away, you need little warning that smoke rolling into your area may be harmful. In addition to the smell and the difficulty you may have breathing, you may also notice ash falling from the sky.
There’s no doubt you’ll need to take precautions to protect yourself, your family, your pets, and your home.
But, what if the fire is hundreds or thousands of miles away, presenting itself as a hazy day with an odor reminiscent of a warm campfire? In this case, paying attention to the Air Quality Index (AQI) can help you determine your risk.
AQI is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) index for air quality. It takes into consideration the number of pollutants in the air (i.e., ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide), then assigns a number that indicates the severity of such pollutants.
The numbers go from zero to well-over 300, with the highest numbers indicating the most extreme levels of concern. AQIs from zero to 50 is considered good, and those 51 to 100 are moderate to acceptable. Beyond that, people should begin to take precautions.
- 101-150 – Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: Members of sensitive groups (children, seniors, those with respiratory health issues, etc.) may experience health effects, while others are less likely to be affected.
- 151-200 – Unhealthy: Some members of the public may experience health effects, and those insensitive groups may have more serious health issues.
- 201-300 – Very Unhealthy: This is high enough for authorities to put out a health alert as the risk increases for everyone. Everyone should take precautions.
- 300-Plus – Hazardous: This indicates an emergency condition. You’ll want to leave ASAP.
You can typically track your region's AQI in real-time through your smartphone’s weather and/or news app.
Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
Wildfire smoke can be unpredictable and can enter your area to varying degrees with little to no warning. So, it’s important you’re prepared and know how to respond when the sky darkens and your nose first picks up the scent. Here are tips for reacting in such conditions:
Keep Your Indoor Air Clean: When smoke rolls into your area, seal off all entry points into your home by closing all doors, windows, and vents. Turn your AC to recirculate and close the fresh-air intake. If you need to, consider the use of an air purifier. Not only do you want to keep the air you breathe clean, but you also want to prevent the possibility of your home absorbing smoke odors and damage.
Stay Indoors: If you have no reason to go outdoors, don’t. Stay inside to keep your smoke exposure to a minimum. This goes not just for you and your family, but also for your pets.
Wear a Mask: If and when you have to go outside – say, to go to work, head to the grocery store or pick up the kids from school – wear a mask. We all have them at this point.
Don’t Contribute to the Problem: Lighting candles, using the fireplace and even vacuuming and dusting can further contribute to poor air quality in your home. So, why do it when you’re already fighting the smoke?
Don’t Ignore Your Health: If you experience health effects, leave your home and consider visiting your physician or an ER doctor. Or, if you’re in a high-risk population and your home’s not sealed and equipped to handle the smoke, perhaps treat yourself to a night in a nice hotel. You get no points for toughing it out.
Contact SERVPRO of Bend
During this wildfire season, if your home sustains any smoke damage, don’t try to handle it on your own. Contact the Fire and Smoke Restoration Technicians at SERVPRO of Bend, and our team will quickly respond to your needs and provide you an estimate for getting your home back to normal.
To learn more, call us at (541) 385-7044 or fill out our online contact form. We’ll be happy to get back in touch with you as soon as possible!