With a hot, dry summer forecast ahead of us, wildfire season has already begun in many counties across Oregon. As such, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has been working with a group of state agencies and regional organizations, including the National Weather Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency and the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division, among many others, to prepare for busy months ahead. This includes reviewing the management and protocols for monitoring air quality and notifying the public of severe smoke events.
It is crucial that the public also prepares for wildfire season, as heavy smoke can irritate eyes and lungs and worsen some medical conditions. Following DEQ’s Air Quality Index is the best way to understand current local conditions. It is a color-coded map that tracks air quality and provides health-based recommendations. The AQI is also available for smartphones through the OregonAIR app, which is free through Google Play and Apple online. Additional air quality details can be found through DEQ’s air pollution advisories.
Smoke exposure can make people, particularly those with heart and lung disease, more susceptible to respiratory illnesses. With N95 respirators in short supply and COVID-19 still circulating, these masks should be reserved for health care and other frontline workers. Cloth masks may help prevent their users from spreading COVID-19 to others, but they do not protect users from the health effects of the fine particles found in wildfire smoke. Therefore, DEQ urges people to prepare themselves and others for severe smoke events by going through the following checklist:
- Download DEQ’s free OregonAIR smartphone app or bookmark the Air Quality Index to track current air quality in your area. Visit the “Oregon Smoke Information” blog for additional details.
- Make sure your windows and doors seal well.
- Check the filters in your heating, ventilation, cooling and air purification systems and change them as needed. If you do not have a high efficiency particulate air filter, and your system will support it, choose the highest HEPA rating your system will allow.
- Purchase a portable HEPA or non-ozone producing electrostatic precipitating air cleaner.
- Develop or update your breathing plan if you have asthma or other lung and heart conditions. Be sure to consult your health care provider.
- Review OHA’s “Hazy, smoky air: Do you know what to do?” fact sheet when smoke fills the air.
State agencies have asked people in Oregon to voluntarily curtail outdoor burning to reduce the respiratory effects during the COVID-19 pandemic. Multnomah County has also requested people refrain from recreational burning. Smoke from these sources may have negative impacts on neighbors and first responders.
DEQ and other state agencies and organizations throughout Oregon are working hard to ensure people enjoy a happy and safe summer. We hope you will join us in this effort.
Check out these additional tips to prevent wildfires and keep Oregon green.
— By Susan C. Mills, public affairs specialist