Jackson County public health officials are offering information about steps residents can take to avoid illness from wildfire smoke inhalation.
Wildfire Smoke from Milepost 97 Fire has been impacting air quality in Jackson County. Smoke levels can rise and fall depending on weather factors, including wind direction, so people need to be observant of the air quality during wildfire season.
Persons with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma or other chronic respiratory conditions and cardiovascular disease, people older than 65 years of age, infants and children, pregnant women, and smokers are particularly sensitive to wildfire smoke.
To decide if the air quality is healthy for you to be in, complete steps 1 and 2.
Check DEQ’s Air Quality Index to see real-time air monitoring data from monitors placed around Oregon https://oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map. You can download the app by searching OregonAir. Keep in mind that monitoring locations are limited, pollution levels may be higher in some areas, and wildfire smoke levels can rise and fall rapidly. So you will want to also complete step 2.
Conduct a visual assessment: People can conduct a visual assessment of nearby smoke to quickly get a sense of air quality levels by using the 5-3-1 index. Residents will want to determine the limit of their visual range by looking for distant targets or familiar landmarks, such as mountains, buildings, and hills at a known distance. The visual range is that point at which these targets are no longer visible. Once a distance has been determined, follow the guidance below:
If under 5 miles: The air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness. These people should minimize outdoor activity.
If under 3 miles: The air quality is unhealthy for everyone. Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should avoid all outdoor activities.
If under 1 mile: The air quality is very unhealthy, and in some cases may be hazardous. Everyone should avoid all outdoor activities.
If visibility is well over five miles, the air quality is generally good. No matter how far you can see, if someone feels that they have health effects from the wildfire smoke exposure, they should take extra care to stay inside or get to an area with better air quality. They should also see their doctor or health professional as needed.
Take the following precautions to avoid breathing problems or other symptoms from smoke:
- Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with the highest concentrations.
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions.
- Stay indoors with doors and windows closed. This reduces exposure to particulate matter in the air.
- Use air conditioning to keep your home cool if it becomes too warm.
- Other sources of particles within the home should be reduced or eliminated: smoking, using gas, wood‐burning stoves or furnaces, aerosol sprays, frying or broiling meat, burning candles or incense, vacuuming.
- High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and Electro-static precipitator (ESP) filters can help provide protection. The HEPA filters trap or remove harmful particles in the air.
- When riding in a car, keep the windows and vents closed; turn the air conditioning on to recirculate.
- Drink lots of water - staying hydrated can keep your airways moist, which will help reduce symptoms of respiratory irritation such as scratchy throat, running nose and coughing.
- People exposed to smoky conditions and who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their healthcare providers.
If you must be outdoors when air quality is poor, wearing a special mask called a “particulate respirator” can also help protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. You will want to choose a mask called a “particulate respirator” that has the word “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “P100” printed on it. Masks that are not NIOSH-certified may not offer protection from small particulate matter, even if properly worn.
Most people will find it difficult to use the particulate respirators general use. These types of masks require fit-testing in an occupational setting. It is important to make sure the respirator fits properly, and that air does not leak around the sides. It is impossible to get a good seal on individuals with facial hair. If it does not fit properly, the respirator will not provide full protection and may offer the wearer a false sense of protection. Ashland Smoke Wise has information on how to properly wear an N95 or P100 particulate respirator. These masks are not designed to fit young children.
Particulate respirators can make the work of breathing more difficult and can lead to increased breathing rate and heart rate. They can also contribute to heat stress. Because of this, particulate respirators use by those with heart and respiratory diseases should only be done under a doctor’s supervision. Even healthy adults may find that the increased effort required for breathing makes it uncomfortable to wear a respirator for more than short periods.