Recovery

Breathe Easier With These Tips for Surviving Wildfire Smoke

A meteorologist said it’s the most unhealthy days in Oregon since air quality records have been kept, starting in 2000.

by Damian Mann, Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore. / August 16, 2018
A chinook helicopter heads for a water drop on a wildfire, Tuesday evening, July 31, 2018, near Merlin, Ore. AP/Scott Stoddard

(TNS) - Unhealthy air in Oregon has prompted exasperated residents to search for relief from the smoke that is expected to hang in the valley for at least a month longer.

Many are staying indoors, while others are buying indoor filtration systems, wearing masks and sometimes leaving the area to get a break from the smoke.

“We can’t really do much outside, and stuff sneaks into your house, and it’s hard to get a filter that’s fine enough for your home,” said David Donnelly.

The 65-year-old Eagle Point resident was looking at air purifiers to clean out the fine particles that health officials have warned could cause long-term respiratory damage.

“We’ve had smoke for about a month now, and it looks like we’re going to have it for another six to eight weeks,” Donnelly said.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Medford had recorded 21 days of unhealthy air this summer in the valley, plus an additional 10 days when air quality was in the moderate or unhealthy for sensitive groups range.

Meteorologist Charles Smith said it’s the most unhealthy days since air quality records have been kept, starting in 2000.

Another bad smoke year was 2017 with 15 unhealthy days, followed by 2015 with 12 and 2013 with nine.

Based on visibility records, this year also surpasses 1987, when fires choked the valley with bad air during that summer, he said.

With smoky skies becoming normal lately, residents are searching for methods to deal with smoke, from air purifiers to masks.

Masks

“Surgical masks and bandannas don’t filter the fine particles,” said Katherine Benenati, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “The most effective way to deal with it is to limit exposure.”

Benenati suggests staying indoors as much as possible. However, that is a problem for firefighters and others who work outdoors for a living.

Even the masks with an N95 or P100 rating can be problematic.

“The concern is they create a false sense of security,” Benenati said. “They’re really not reliable unless fit-tested by a professional.”