How to keep indoor spaces clear of smoke during California's wildfire season

ByDustin Dorsey KGO logo
Friday, September 3, 2021
How to keep indoor spaces clear of smoke during California wildfires
You may look at the air quality index to see how smoke conditions are outside during fire season, but how often are you thinking about your indoor air?

SAN FRANCISCO -- You may look at the air quality index to see how smoke conditions are outside during fire season, but how often are you thinking about your indoor air?

Experts say not having a clean air space can be harmful, but there are easy ways to stay safe.

The largest fires in the history of California continue to burn in the northern part of the state, but their impacts are felt far and wide.

Wind conditions are blowing the smoke from Northern California hundreds of miles south creating hazardous air quality outdoors and even indoors.

RELATED: 'It's suffocating': Valley residents cope with smoky air due to California wildfires

"Wildfire smoke is associated with many of the same health effects that we know for all kinds of outdoor air pollution," UC Berkeley Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering and Health Sciences Joshua Apte said. "You don't want to be breathing this, you need to protect yourself from it."

Apte and his team have been studying these harmful smoke-related health effects on Bay Area residents and how to prevent them.

Smoky skies and bad air quality are going to be a reality in the Bay Area for quite awhile as these fires burn. But it's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. That means in order to have good indoor air quality, you must create a cleaner air space in your home.

"I think the most important thing to remember about this is that you don't have to breathe in wildfire smoke," Apte said. "It's pretty easy to protect yourself."

VIDEO: What's in wildfire smoke? How it can impact your health

If you happen to inhale wildfire smoke, you could be breathing in all kinds of dangerous things, according to AccuWeather.

According to Apte, this can be done in simple ways.

First thing is stay indoors and on smoky days, keep your doors and windows closed.

The next step: run an air purifier or create your own using an air filter level 10 or higher with a box fan and duct tape.

The studies showed people who took the steps to create a cleaner air space cut the infiltration of harmful PM2.5 particles in their home in half.

RELATED: California Dreaming: Making the best of state's smoky new reality

"These behaviors work," Apte said. "Air qualities tend to improve when people turn on their air purifiers. So, it's a nice demonstration at scale that this technology can protect you."

The California Air Resources Board also suggests running your A/C with recirculation, don't do activities like cooking without a range hood or vacuuming to avoid kicking up dust particles and if you do go outdoors, wear a NIOSH Certified N95 mask to best protect you from the harmful air particles.

"From a health perspective, smoke is really dangerous, especially for people who have pre-existing conditions," California Air Resources Board Spokesperson Amy MacPherson said. "The other big thing you need to do is check the air quality. Get in the habit every day of, during wildfire season, pulling up the air quality on your phones. The general rule of thumb is: if you can smell smoke, you're breathing it. Sometimes we'll see smoke and the skies will look really hazy, but the air quality is actually okay. Sometimes smoke will travel high enough in the atmosphere that you're not actually breathing it on the ground. But if you smell smoke, you're breathing it and that's when you really need to be careful and take some steps to avoid it."

You can find more tips from the California Air Resources Board here.