How to Use Air Quality Monitors During Wildfires
Wildfires are becoming common in many parts of the world. According to the EPA, there are an average of 70,000 wildfires annually in the US alone.
Drought and rising temperatures are causing wildfires to break out. These fires wreak havoc on forest ecosystems and leave dense clouds of smoke lingering—sometimes as far as the other side of the world.
Air quality during wildfires significantly decreases and can impact a wide area, even if you don’t see the visual impacts of smoke. As a result, the increase in air pollution from wildfires affects our respiratory health.
As we approach wildfire season, let’s talk about how to monitor air quality during wildfires. That way, you can use this knowledge to keep you and your family safe.
Why Should You Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke?
Wildfire smoke is comprised of a mixture of fine particles and gases from burning trees, plants, and other organic materials. It can pose a serious health risk to people—particularly those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Wildfire smoke also negatively impacts seniors, children, and pregnant women.
The particles in wildfire smoke, known as fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5), can penetrate deep into the lungs. Once inside, it causes symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. In some cases, it can even cause heart attacks or strokes.
How to Monitor the Air Quality During Wildfires
During a wildfire, it’s important to monitor the air quality to determine the level of risk and take appropriate action to protect your health. Here are some ways to monitor air quality during wildfires:
- Check Your Air Quality Index (AQI): You can check your local AQI on websites such as AirNow.gov, which provides real-time AQI data across the United States. And check out our AQI guide that helps you understand what to do at each level.
- Pay Attention to Government Warnings: Listen to local news updates on wildfires in your area.
- Use Air Quality Maps: The PurpleAir Map provides real-time air quality data based on your location. During wildfires, you can see how the smoke is moving and how it’s impacting air quality. Here’s a quick guide on how to use an air quality monitoring map.
- Purchase an Air Quality Monitor: You can buy an air quality monitor for your home or office that provides real-time data on air quality levels. That way, you’ll get the most up-to-date information about the current air quality.
5 Tips on Protecting Your Family from Wildfire Smoke
Did you know wildfires actually move faster uphill than downhill? If you live in a home that’s on a higher elevation, then it’s important to know when to evacuate.
Here are 5 tips to help you keep safe when an emergency happens.
#1 - Invest in an Air Quality Monitor
First, one of your best lines of defense is monitoring the air quality inside and outside your home. Then, you will know when to take precautions. If you haven’t already, invest in an air quality monitor for your home.
#2 - Stay Indoors When Possible
When the outdoor air quality outdoors is poor due to wildfire smoke, stay indoors whenever possible. However, since pollutants can make their way indoors, it’s important to monitor indoor air quality during fires.
#3 - Create a Clean Room
A clean room is a space in your home that you put extra precautions to keep “clean” from pollutants such as smoke and other particles. During wildfires, spending time in a clean room can help decrease the impact of harmful air pollutants.
How to create a clean room:
- Keep windows closed to prevent outdoor air pollution from getting in.
- Keep inside doors closed to prevent indoor pollution from entering the room. Indoor air pollution can come from cooking, cleaning, fireplaces, or burning candles.
- Whenever possible, avoid activities that cause indoor pollution, including using gas, propane, or wood burning stoves and furnaces.
- Use an air filter and keep it on while you’re using the room.
#4 - Get an Air Purifier
Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter and an activated carbon filter to clean the air inside the room. If an expensive air purifier is not in your budget, a convenient and powerful alternative is to make your own basic box fan air purifier.
Learn how to make one with this easy DIY box fan project.
#5 - Follow Local Health & Safety Guidelines
Finally, you can check local news and health department websites for guidance on staying safe during a wildfire. By staying informed, you can follow any evacuation orders or other safety instructions as soon as possible.
Have you seen a decrease in air quality during wildfires? Wildfires may impact you even if you don’t see the smoke. This is why air quality monitoring is the best first step in keeping you and your family safe.
Worried About Your Air Quality?
Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map or join PurpleAir's mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home.
Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.