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Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

Orange sky from wildfires in Oregon.

Raging wildfires have caused massive damages and widescale evacuations throughout Oregon. If the apocalyptic sky wasn’t enough of an indication of the problems facing our climate, the air quality certainly was.

Here in Portland, our Air Quality Index score hit 455 yesterday—well into the hazardous range. Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index maxed out their 500-level scale around Eugene, Oregon, where the pollutant levels reached into an unprecedented 700s range.

What is the Air Quality Index?

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a rating system that the EPA uses to measure the levels of five major pollutants in the atmosphere: carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide. The AQI uses colors and numbers to label different levels of air quality, and relate them to potential health effects.

What are the different AQI ranges?

  • Green - Good air quality. Levels range from 0-50 and air pollution poses little to no risk.

  • Yellow - Moderate air quality. Levels range from 51 to 100—air quality is acceptable, but sensitive groups could be more at-risk. Any AQI within or under this range is considered healthy.

  • Orange - Unhealthy for sensitive groups. Levels range from 101-150. Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects, but the general public is less likely to be affected.

  • Red - Unhealthy. Levels range from 151-200. The general public may experience health effects and sensitive groups are at a heightened risk for serious health effects.

  • Purple - Very unhealthy. Levels range from 201-300. The risk of health effects is increased for everyone.

  • Maroon - Hazardous. Air quality with a level of 301 or higher is considered hazardous and calls for a health warning of emergency conditions. Everyone is affected.

The AQI focuses on health effects that individuals may feel after a few hours or days of breathing in the air.

What’s in wildfire smoke?

The particles that are common from wildfire smoke can include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, water vapor, nitrogen oxides, trace minerals, and other organic chemicals.

Will a mask protect me against wildfire smoke?

Smoke particles are too small to be filtered out through surgical masks, bandanas, cloth, or dust masks. The only masks that can help filter out smoke are NIOSH N95 or P100 masks, but due to the COVID pandemic, these masks are in short supply.

Even if you have access to the masks mentioned above, keep in mind that NIOSH N95 or P100 masks are only effective when they are properly fitted and are not suitable for children. Because of this, the first responses to wildfire smoke should be staying indoors, closing doors and windows, and using air cleaners to reduce your smoke exposure.

How to Keep Your Home’s Air Clean

Follow these tips to keep your indoor air quality as healthy as possible when outdoor air is hazardous:

  1. Turn your HVAC system’s fan into the “on” position. Keeping your fan on will help to keep the indoor air circulating and will help to draw out any smokey air inside your home.

  2. Turn off any exhaust fans (such as over the stove, in the bathroom etc.) Turning these fans on may seem like a good idea, but in reality, it can create a negative air pressure that draws smokey outdoor air into your home.

  3. Install a HEPA air filter or air purifier. If you choose to make the switch to a HEPA filter, make sure you’re purchasing is labeled “HEPA” and not “HEPA-like”—true HEPA filters or air purifiers can filter out 99.7% of particles as small as 0.3 micrometers, but HEPA-like filters only filter out particles as small as 3 microns—meaning it won’t filter out smoke.

Wildfire smoke and unhealthy air quality affect our entire community. As a family-owned business, A-TEMP Heating, Cooling & Electrical knows how important it is to keep your home and family safe during such an unprecedented and chaotic time.

If you need assistance deciding on air purification solutions, find your HVAC fan not working, or could just use some advice when deciding on a new grade of air filter, give our team a call at (503) 694-3396.