Get Out There

Advice for Fire Season from Californians

Depending on where you live in the U.S., you probably know about hurricane season, tornado season or fire season. Regionally, Americans all know their dangerous weather seasons and how to handle them. The Northeast has been dealing with fires for the last couple of weeks. Fire season isn’t in their wheelhouse. As a Californian company that deals with this every year, we feel we should share some tips.

Seeing a beige or orange tint to the sky is unsettling. But gray clouds can sometimes be mistaken for rain. One person on our team grew up in New Jersey. Shortly after moving here, she saw what she thought were rain clouds, got excited for the “clean smell of rain,” threw open her windows and was greeted instead with the scent of a distant fire. Then she had to run her AC to clean the air in her apartment. That taught her a lesson she didn’t forget!

Particles from distant fires can cause breathing problems, sore eyes, headaches, dizziness or nausea. If you have a strong reaction, get medical attention. It impacts people with breathing problems, kids, older people and pregnant people the most.

This is like small, very tiny particulate matter that goes deep into the airways. It’s not an allergen; it’s an irritant. And so an irritant can affect anyone’s lungs and cause you to start coughing and feeling that throat itchiness,” said Dr. Shilpa Patel, medical director of Children’s National IMPACT DC Asthma Clinic.

First things first, if the air quality is bad, hunker down. You can feel like you’re going stir-crazy or wasting your day while staying inside your home, but your health will thank you in the long run. You can use the skills you learned during the early days of the pandemic and return to the hobbies you picked up back then! Clean your house, work out indoors and catch up on your emails.

When you are in your home, use an air filter. Many people here in Southern California own a HEPA air filter that they use every year. Running your air conditioner is more expensive but effective if you don’t want to invest in a HEPA filter. The aim is to keep the air in your home clean and breathable.

It can be hard to tell if the air is “bad.” If the sky is beige, it’s obvious that the air quality is terrible. But, if there are ongoing fires or have been fires and the day looks mostly fine, it can be challenging to gauge. That’s when a trustworthy resource like PurpleAir comes in. It can be accessed as a website or app. It uses a network of community sensors to track the air minute-to-minute. If the air quality index is over 100, it’s dangerous for kids and vulnerable people. If it’s over 150, it’s not safe for anyone to spend long periods outdoors.  

If you leave your home for errands or to walk a pet, keep your trips short. Don’t exercise outdoors; if possible, walk slowly to keep your breath shallower so you don’t inhale as deeply. And, if you have masks from the pandemic, wear them! But it has to be an N95; a surgical mask won’t filter out the particles.

Finally, the most important thing to do during fire season, in our experience, is to check in with your family and friends and allow yourself to feel angry. We’ve been told in the past to practice being “zen” about it. While it’s true that fire season passes and we’ll get through it, it seems to come earlier every year and last longer. Pushing down emotions isn’t healthy, but checking in with people can help you feel connected and happier even when separated for safety.

Banner image: Ian Beckley via Pexels

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