Wildfire Smoke and Your Health

Wildfire smoke is full of tiny particles that can be especially unsafe for sensitive groups that include pregnant women, very young children, older adults, and people who have heart or lung issues (such as asthma and COPD) or who have had a stroke. Our partner, the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), provides us with one of the best tools we have to protect ourselves against the impacts of wildfire smoke: reliable information about the Air Quality through a network of local air monitors that helps us stay aware of poor conditions so we can adjust our activities as needed.

AQI ranges
  (Table from AirNow.gov)

 How to protect your health: 

Limit exposure

The most effective way all of us can protect ourselves (even if not in a sensitive group) is to limit exposure to the smoky air by staying indoors and limiting outdoor activities. Follow the guidance of the Air Quality Index and monitor conditions locally at the LRAPA site. But if the air looks and smells smoky, it may not be the best time for activities outdoors.
  • If you are in a sensitive group (pregnant women, persons who have a preexisting lung or heart condition, are very young or very old), when levels reach the Orange range or higher, you should stay indoors if possible and close windows and doors. If it is too hot to close up your home, visit an air-conditioned location such as a library or shopping mall.
  • Those with asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their healthcare providers for advice and additional support.
  • Everyone should avoid strenuous outdoor activities like running or sports practices if conditions are in the Orange or Red ranges.

About masks

We get a lot of questions during wildfire season about masks. Long story short, we don’t recommend them. Most masks found at hardware stores are designed to trap sawdust and will not protect your lungs from smoke. Although respirators, like the N95, can protect against smoke, they must be properly fitted by a trained professional to provide the best protection. These respirators are also not sized or appropriate for use by children or folks with beards. Ultimately, we just recommend you limit your exposure to smoky air as much as possible.

Find a "cleaner air" place

Our usually rainy Pacific Northwest does have places like malls that have a robust air conditioning system, and they are ideal to escape the heat and the smoke. Even a short time in a place with filtered air will give your lungs a break and help clean out the small particles. If you don’t feel like shopping or going to the movies, find a community center or library that has air conditioning. Lane County has a list of these places and updates it regularly.

Cleaner air at home

You can also make your own clean air space at home - this information is from the good folks at Puget Sound Clean Air Agency:
  • If you are able, purchase an indoor high-efficiency HEPA filter fan/purifier that is suitable for your home.
  • Unable to buy an indoor air filter? You can make one! All you need is a box fan, furnace filter (MERV-13 or better), and a bungee cord or tape.
  • Designate a room in your home to be a “clean room.” Ideally, this room should have as few windows or doors as possible to let smoke in. Use an indoor air filter to make the room even cleaner.
  • If you have an air conditioner, close the AC’s fresh air intake so you can keep smoky air out of your home.
  • If your car has AC, make sure to use it when you are driving and set it to the “recirculate” mode.

Want to know more?

The Oregon Health Authority has several resources, including guidance for healthcare providers, employers and others, on their Wildfires and Smoke pages. There are materials you can print, like Fact Sheets in multiple languages, and the current Guidelines for School Outdoor Activities.