BLOG: How Californians get through wildfire season
Wildfires have become more than just a problem of the West Coast
Folks across the East Coast are in the thick of wildfire season — a phenomenon Californians are unfortunately all too familiar with. In the last decade, we have endured several severe fire seasons resulting in dystopian scenes reminiscent of those we’re seeing in New York City and Washington, D.C. right now.
Seeing the gas mask-donned people standing beneath the faded silhouettes of skyscrapers and blood orange skies feels like déjà vu.
As seasoned experts on getting through wildfire season, Californians have some advice for our East Coast friends.
Back when we were hitting peak wildfire season in 2022, the McKinney Fire in Northern California, the largest wildfire in the state that year, had burned over 60,000 acres and killed at least four people.
While wildfires are a natural part of the California landscape, the impacts had become much more disastrous and tragic because of the climate crisis and the 120-year history of ignoring sustainable fire prevention practices championed by Indigenous peoples.
Wildfires are not just dangerous for people in the direct line of fire or whose homes reside outside of evacuation lines.
You notice the red haze in the air. You see the soot on the ground. And that smell. Your nose bristles at it, and you double check to see if your window is shut tight.
Wildfires wreak havoc on our air quality, which threatens all of our livelihoods. Air pollution can lead to anything as mild as eye or throat irritation or as serious as heart attacks, cancer, and respiratory issues, with children and older adults the most at risk. In fact, breathing heavy wildfire smoke might be just as bad as, or worse than, smoking cigarettes.
It’s important to keep an eye on the air quality in your area when there is a wildfire in the region to determine how safe it is to breathe the air outside. The Air Quality Index, which the EPA created to update the public on the cleanliness of their air, measures on a scale of 0 to 500 the prominence of five major pollutants — the lower the score, the better. The air quality starts to get dangerous when the Index hits triple digits. PurpleAir is also a great resource that provides crowd-sourced air quality data.
Here are our tips for dealing with wildfire smoke and air pollution:
- If you can, stay indoors with windows and doors shut and the AC on continuously.
- Try running an air purifier or even creating a “Clean Room” in your home.
- Or, if you’re out, spend your time at indoor public places with good air quality and air filtration systems like libraries and shopping malls.
- Take a break from strenuous outdoor activities, especially when the Air Quality Index passes 150.
- Maybe return to wearing that N95 or other well-fitting mask outside to avoid breathing in the smoke.
- Drink lots of water and don’t smoke cigarettes.
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