It's Smoke Ready Week!

It's Smoke Ready Week!

June 18, 2021

It’s Smoke Ready Week! What does that mean? It means it’s time to get ready for the smoke that comes with wildfire season. Some years wildfire smoke can be worse than others, so it’s always good to be ready with helpful information and tools.

Know the Risks

First, it’s important to know what the risk is. During wildfire season, air quality can change hour to hour so be sure to check current data here. For statewide wildfire smoke information, the Washington State Smoke Blog is a great resource.

It may feel like more of an inconvenience than a health hazard, but smoke has risks. It’s made up of gasses and microscopic particles which can be tiny enough to bypass the body’s normal defenses, entering the lungs and blood stream. Breathing in wildfire smoke can be harmful to anyone, but it is especially harmful to people with heart and lung disease, people with chronic respiratory conditions, infants and children, pregnant women, and adults 65 and over.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an added stressor this season because not only can smoke and COVID-19 both impact similar systems in our body, but many of the people who fall in the vulnerable groups for wildfire smoke are also more vulnerable than the general population to COVID-19. Another issue is that COVID-19 symptoms can be disguised as symptoms from wildfire smoke. Regardless of the source of the symptoms, if they are severe, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, get medical attention as soon as possible by calling 911 or going directly to the nearest emergency room. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, protect others by staying home and call your healthcare provider to discuss COVID-19 testing and other possible reasons for your illness.

Wildfire vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

Wildfire Smoke1 COVID-192
Trouble breathing
Asthma attacks
Stinging eyes
Scratchy throat
Runny nose
Irritated sinuses
Chest pain
Fast heartbeat
Exacerbation of lung, heart and circulatory conditions3
Fever or chills
Cough Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
Sore throat
Congestion or runny nose4
New loss of taste or smell Nausea or vomiting Diarrhea

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
2. Washington State Dept. of Health Novel Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions
3. Washington State Dept. of Health Smoke From Fires
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Symptoms of Coronavirus

Cloth Face Masks & Wildfire Smoke

Another question that has come up during the pandemic is if your cloth face mask will help filter out the smoke. Cloth face coverings generally do not provide much protection from breathing in wildfire smoke. You can see from the picture below that the smoke particles are extremely small compared to a respiratory droplet that carries a virus. If you are unvaccinated (or if a business or organization requests it) you should continue to wear a cloth face covering when you are indoors or not able to socially distance, but you will need to find other means to protect yourself from wildfire smoke.

The best way to protect yourself from smoke is to avoid it. You can stay indoors with your windows closed and keep indoor air pollution at a minimum by not doing things like burning candles, using essential oil diffusers, or vacuuming. You can also take steps to improve air quality in your home by using the best filters in your heating and ventilation system, using a HEPA air cleaner, or by building a DIY box fan filter. Remember to get your supplies ahead of time since they can sell out quicker as the smoke gets worse.

Department of Ecology - Make Your Own Clean Air Fan

To learn more about protecting you and your family from wildfire smoke visit the wildfire information pages at SRHD and Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.