Oregon is heading into summer with record-levels of tinder-ready debris, snowpack that is well below normal and melting fast, higher-than-average temperatures and worsening drought.
June had barely begun when a brush fire shut down Interstate 84 at the Multnomah County line. The following weekend, lighting sparked a blaze on the Idaho border, burning 2,500 acres by Monday. Conditions spurred the Oregon Department of Forestry to announce the beginning of wildfire season June 9, weeks earlier than normal.
Before the season kicks into full gear across the Northwest, healthy air experts with Multnomah County Environmental Health are asking residents to take time during this Smoke Ready Week to prepare for the worst.
“Don’t wait until we are breathing in smoke before you go out and try to find an air cleaner,” said Nadege Dubuisson, a Multnomah County air quality specialist. “Get your air cleaner, or your box fan and furnace filter to make your own now, before they sell out.”
Environmental Health recommends people review these tips to prepare for hazardous air:
Make it a habit to check the Air Quality Index near you as you make decisions about the day.
Re-familiarize yourself with what the different colors mean for you. When air quality is good, health experts encourage people to get outside to play, exercise or simply laze about. When it’s unhealthy, they recommend shortening time outdoors or rescheduling for a different day or time when air quality is expected to be better.
Air purifiers help clean harmful particles from indoor air. They are especially helpful for babies, the elderly, pregnant people and people with asthma, allergies, or other breathing difficulties.
If you can afford to buy an air cleaner, choose a portable, room-sized machine approved by the California Air Resources Board.
To build your own: just get a box fan, a 20” x 20” furnace filter (with the highest Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value or MERV rating you can find, MERV 13 is ideal) and some tape. Then check out this video for a step-by-step tutorial.
Retired Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis walks you through how to change your furnace or air conditioner with a new and improved filter to improve your indoor air quality. Grab a pen to jot down the date you install the new filter, so you’ll be able to gauge next time.
Choose a filter with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value or MERV— of at least 8. A filter with a MERV value of 12 or 13 will filter out more particulate during a serious smoke event.
Next, turn on the furnace fan—without the heat—and that will move cleaner air through the ducts.
Check your home for drafts—those gaps, holes and cracks you would want to seal during a smoke event. Look at exterior doors and windows, vents and fireplaces. Then pick up some weatherization tape or painters tape and plastic sheeting to have on hand if needed.
For people with pre-existing conditions, consider identifying an interior room with few doors and windows to act as a clean room, where you could run an air cleaner to most effectively seal off smoke. Check out these EPA tips to create a clean room.
Plan a social visit
By summer, most people will have had the chance to get their vaccination against COVID-19, and that makes it safer to consider leaving town if the smoke gets too bad. Talk to family and friends now about paying them a visit.
Draft a business plan
If you own a business or manage a company, prepare for another smoke event by identifying indoor tasks for employees who might otherwise need to work outdoors. Plan office spaces with better air filtration and check out the smoke ready recommendations from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers