Breathe Easier During Fire Season

Unfortunately, fires are a reality of living in Southern California, especially in the late summer and fall. As we’ve seen this week, fire season has started early this year. And as hot and dry as it is right now, I fear this is not the last fire we will see before the end of the year.

Two years ago, the fires that we burning Southern California felt like they were in my backyard. I mean really – here’s a picture taken from my backyard at that time.

I remember firsthand how bad the air quality was. It was awful for months. School was closed for a week, we wore masks every time we had to go outside, I had multiple air filters running day and night, and the ash covered every square inch of my yard for months after. I would clean it all up, then the winds would pick up one night and it would be covered again. [more]

But even if you aren’t near the area that is burning, air quality can be impacted for many hundreds of miles. For more information, see this article from “Wildfires Causing Further Deterioration of Southern California’s Air Quality”. In it, Michael Kleinman, a professor of community and environmental medicine at UC Irvine noted, soot particles (like those currently in the air from multiple fires) "can penetrate deeper in the lungs and have harsher health effects," often causing "tissue damage, inflammation and irritation".

What can you do to protect your lungs and keep your family breathing easy during fire season? Here are some suggestions:

  • If there is visible smoke in the air, stay inside as much as possible. And definitely do not exercise outside.
  • Sensitive individuals, such as those with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory disease, should stay indoors as much as possible even in areas of Southern California (or anywhere that large-scale fires are burning) where smoke, soot, or ash cannot be seen in the air.
  • Use an indoor air filter – if you spend most of your time in a couple rooms of your home, a portable air filter should do the trick. If you are looking to purify the air in throughout your home, consider a whole house filtration system. The performance of portable air cleaners is typically determined by its “Clean Air Delivery Rate” or CADR, which is basically amount of clean air delivered each minute by the air cleaner. CADRs can usually be found on the box of the air cleaner. For more information about CADRs and air filters, check out The Associate of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) explanation of air cleaners here. You can also check out the EPA’s information on internal air quality.
  • If you run your air conditioner, make sure it is set to re-circulate your inside air rather than pulling air in from the outside. As I found out a couple years ago, my air conditioning unit could be set to do either/or, so I had to read the manual to make sure I had the unit set on re-circulate.
  • Keep more plants (the real kind) inside your home – plants not only look good, but they can remove dangerous chemicals from the air and produce clean oxygen. You don’t need a green thumb to keep them alive. There are many types that require just a little water once a week or so. To see which plants are most beneficial to your inside air, see “Top 5 Plants for Improving Air Quality”.
  • Do not use fireplaces (either wood burning or gas), candles, and vacuums. Use damp cloths to clean dusty indoor surfaces. Basically, don’t do anything to stir dust particles into the air.
    Don’t contribute any extra pollutants to your air – chemical-based cleaners, pesticides, and cigarette smoke all contribute to poor indoor air quality. Switch to green cleaning products, natural pesticides and of course, don’t smoke (for many other reasons other than air quality, but add that to the list).

Finally, a big thank you to all the firefighters and other employees at the fire department who work so hard to protect our homes and families. It’s dangerous work and they deserve all the recognition they receive and more.

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