Smoke & Wildfire
Wildfire smoke is a major threat to human health. Burning trees and plants, buildings, and other materials release small particles and gases - such as carbon monoxide – that get suspended in the air. Exposure and breathing in this smoke can affect anyone right away, causing:
- Trouble breathing
- Asthma attacks
- Stinging eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Irritated Sinuses
- Chest pain
- Runny Nose
- Fast heartbeat
Heart disease, lung disease, and death are severe health effects that can be associated with chronic or acute exposure, and for exposed individuals with pre-existing conditions. Call 911 if you or someone else has serious health symptoms for smoke.
Hotter, drier conditions in combination with snow melting earlier in the spring are causing soils and forests to be dry, and stay dry, making them more susceptible to wildfires. As the risk and extent of wildfires increases and is projected to continue to increase from climate change, awareness of human influences and methods to protect yourself is progressively critical.
Current Air Quality
Air quality is tracked in real time all year-round by multiple agencies using air monitors around the United States. Below you can find a live map detailing air quality and fire conditions near you:
AirNow – Multiple federal, tribal, state, and local air quality agencies
Thresholds for dangerous air quality events are based on the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) Air Quality Index scale. Thurston County considers a Hazardous Weather Event (HWE) to occur when the Air Quality Index (AQI) measures between 80 -150 micrograms – equivalent to the AQI scale being above 160.
- (For reference, 56 µg/m3 of PM2.5 is an AQI of 150 – and is considered "Unhealthy" on the AQI)
How to Protect Yourself
- Keep indoor air as clean as possible.
- Make a low-cost clean air fan. This simple fan-filter combination can reduce tiny, harmful particles in polluted air. Change the filter when it gets dirty.
- Keep windows and doors closed. Blow a fan directly on you to keep cool. Fans cool people, not rooms.
- Check current air quality regularly. Air quality conditions can change quickly. Open your windows for fresh air when air quality gets better.
- Use a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your furnace to reduce indoor air pollution. Change the filter when it gets dirty.
- Set your air conditioner on recirculate so dirty air doesn't come inside.
- Air purifying machines may help remove smoke particles indoors, but they don't remove gases and odors.
- Don't add more air pollution: Avoid smoking, using a wood stove or fireplace, burning candles or incense, or vacuuming.
- Reduce physical activity inside when air quality outside is at or above the "unhealthy" category.
- Leave the area affected by wildfire smoke, if you can't keep the indoor air clean.
- Check current air quality regularly. Air quality conditions can change quickly.
- The best respiratory protection is to wear an N95 or N100 mask. A paper mask, dust mask, or cloth mask will help a little bit, but won't filter out fine particles or hazardous gases in smoke.
- Wear goggles to protect your eyes from ash and fine dust.
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
- Minimize outdoor activity until the air is clear.
- Drink plenty of water.
- If you are in a sensitive group, reconsider any outdoor activities.
- Keep car windows rolled up, with the air conditioner set to recirculate to avoid bringing in dirty air.
- Leave the area affected by wildfire smoke, if you can.
- Never throw cigarettes out your car window or on the ground.
- Don't park hot vehicles, recreational vehicles, trailers, fuel-powered lawn equipment on grass.
- Don't drag trailer chains on the ground, which could cause sparks.
- Clear the perimeter of your house from pine, fir needles, and yard waste.
- Keep your gutters clean.
- Adhere to burn bans, and report illegal burning.
- Extinguish campfires completely.
- Monitor air quality in your area.
- Have an evacuation plan in place.
- Visit Ready, Set, GO! for more emergency preparedness tips.