As our local community starts to regain a little normalcy with businesses beginning to open back up, people will be venturing out more frequently. At the same time, the temperatures are heating up and that means fire season in SLO County has arrived – we have already started to see an uptick in unplanned vegetation fires across the county. The question of how to protect yourself and those close to you if smoke from wildfires or prescribed burns enters your community is on everyone’s mind. Smoke is a harmful air pollutant comprised mostly of particles but can also include toxic components as well. Here are our health protective tips when impacts from wildfire smoke occur this summer or fall, whether from a fire in our region or fires throughout the state.
Prepare your home: Before wildfires come, prepare your home. Create defensible space around your home and set up a “Clean Room.” We have some helpful tips and resources for how to create a Clean Room below on this page!
Stay Indoors: If smoke is present, stay indoors as much as possible and avoid outdoor exercise.
Home Tip: Keep your windows and exterior doors closed.
Cloth Masks: Cloth face masks will not adequately protect you from inhaling wildfire smoke. During the COVID-19 pandemic, cloth masks are encouraged to protect others (not yourself) from the liquid droplets that are expelled when we speak, cough, or sneeze, from going into the air. Residual spray when you speak produces larger droplets than the PM2.5 particles produced during wildfire events.
N95 Masks: Due to COVID-19, N95 masks are in short supply and should be reserved for frontline workers as much as possible. That is why, to the extent possible, people should stay indoors when wildfire smoke is present as opposed to wearing an N95 mask or a cloth face masks for protection from smoke.
Health Considerations: If you have pre-existing conditions (asthma or heart or lung conditions) the general rule of thumb when wildfire smoke is present is to stay indoors to avoid being exposed to wildfire smoke.
For more information on face coverings, filters for your home, and how to stay safe during wildfires, please visit our website at SLOCleanAir.org or visit SLO County Public Health Department at SLOPublicHealth.org.
During wildfire events, it is important to limit your exposure to smoke - especially if you may be more vulnerable to its health impacts than the general population. The SLO County Air Pollution Control District is responsible for closely monitoring local air quality during wildfire events. The APCD has nine permanent air monitoring stations located throughout the county measuring air quality and collecting data 24-hours per day, 7-days per week. In addition, during wildfires and large controlled burns, the APCD sets up temporary air monitoring sites to closely monitor those areas that may be most impacted. Provided below is some helpful information on how to protect yourself and your family from the health impacts of smoke and particulate matter.
Click here to download the Wildfire Smoke and Your Health graphic!
Protect Your Indoor Air Quality
Awareness is the key to protecting your health! The SLO County APCD provides current and forecasted air quality information so you can stay informed. If you notice air pollution levels are elevated in your area, limit your time outdoors and avoid outdoor exercise. It’s also best to keep your windows closed and run your AC on recirculate, if available, with a clean filter. Click here to learn more about the EPA's "Clean Room Tips." We also have developed a helpful poster for how to create a "Clean Room" in your home, click here to download!
Those most vulnerable to the effects of wildfire smoke:
If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma, you may experience health effects earlier and at lower smoke levels than healthy people.
Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke.
Children are also more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing; they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults; and they are more likely to be active outdoors.
How to tell if smoke is affecting you:
Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, stinging eyes or a runny nose. If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.
People with heart disease might experience chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, or fatigue. People with lung disease may not be able to breathe as deeply or as vigorously as usual, and they may experience symptoms such as coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort, wheezing and shortness of breath.
When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.
The public is advised to consult your doctor if you are experiencing health problems. For those affected, some relief may be gained by staying indoors, limiting strenuous activities and setting any heating/ventilation/air conditioning systems to recirculation.
Tips for clean up after a wildfire:
To clean ash, please do the following:
Use a damp cloth and spray areas lightly with water, direct the ash-filled water to the ground areas, and away from the runoff system.
Do not use leaf blowers.
Take your vehicle to the car wash and wash toys that have been outside in the ash.
Due to its corrosive nature, avoid skin contact with the ash by wearing gloves and long-sleeved shirts.
Please note, if you have existing heart or lung conditions, avoid doing ash clean-up yourself or anything else that stirs the particles back up into the air.
In addition, do not allow children to play in the ash.