It’s summer in the Gorge: hot, dry, and windy. Perfect conditions for wildfires. There have already been several in the Gorge, and even though we wish and hope there won’t be any more, there probably will be. Besides the personal and economic harm wildfires can cause, the smoke from wildfires can be damaging to our health causing burning eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, headaches, and illnesses such as bronchitis. The smoke can also worsen chronic heart and lung disease including asthma, emphysema, and COPD.
So how do we prepare and protect ourselves from wildfire smoke?
A mask is one way to protect yourself when outdoors. We have all become accustomed to wearing cloth masks during the pandemic, but cloth masks offer little protection against wildfire smoke because they do not effectively catch the harmful small particles when you breathe in. But as we know the masks are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets you breathe out.
N95 and KN95 particulate respirator face masks can provide protection from both: wildfire smoke and from getting and spreading COVID-19. The benefit of an N95 and KN95 respirators is that they filter up to 95% of particles in the air they meet the right requirements, are not counterfeit/fake, and fit properly. But many folks find them uncomfortable – when they fit properly, they often require more effort to breathe. They also are more expensive and are meant to be used only once.
N95 NIOSH-approved masks which are commonly used in the United States are the gold standard and the supply has increased significantly over the last several months. Make sure you purchase a NIOSH approved N95 mask. KN95 respirators are commonly made in China and are N95 masks, but only a few Chinese manufacturers have been approved by the FDA for emergency use. You can find online a list of the NIOSH approved N95 and the FDA–approved KN95 respirator face masks.
Besides wearing a protective mask when the air quality deteriorates because of wildfire smoke, you can create a cleaner air space at home. Keep doors and windows closed, and if you have one, continuously run a portable air purifier in one or more rooms. If you don’t have an air purifier, an inexpensive and surprisingly effective alternative is making your own DIY filtration unit by sealing a 20–inch square furnace filter (which you can find at any hardware store) with clear pro-strength packing tape to a 20–inch box fan.
If you have a forced–air system in your home, you may need to talk to a qualified heating and cooling professional about different filters and settings you can use to reduce indoor smoke. (Set to “recirculate” and “on” rather than “auto”.)
If you want to know more about the air quality in your area, you can find up-to-date information by going to AirNow.gov on your computer or smartphone. is a one-stop source for air quality data including the air quality index (AQI) for your area, a smoke and fire map, and AQI forecast. You can also find air quality information on several weather apps such as Weather Bug.
Besides spoiling the scenic beauty of the Gorge, wildfire smoke can be detrimental to our health and should be avoided if possible. Because we know who’s at risk. Us!
Some of my most vivid memories are from watching the evening news: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, Watergate. This week’s “Remember When” question is who was the broadcast journalist who served as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for nineteen years; often cited as the most trusted man in America”; and always signed off with “And that’s the way it is”? E-mail your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org, call 541-296-4788 or send it with the last episode of The Twentieth Century.
The comedian/actor who found his greatest fame occupying the middle square of the game show Hollywood Squares was Paul Lynde. Since I will be out of town (yes, again, this time for the annual reunion with my sister and brother), I’ll mention those who submitted correct answers next week.
Well, it’s been another week running so fast I feel like I’m moving backward. Until we meet again, when the going gets tough, the tough – take a nap?
“If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” Will Rogers