Air Quality and Fires
Wildfire smoke exposure in communities is not known to cause any long-term increase in health risks for otherwise healthy people. (That is not true of all smoke – tobacco smoke, for example, is quite dangerous.) Most otherwise healthy people are able to minimize their exposure when possible (for example, don’t go running when it is smoky) but can go about their daily lives without significant health effects. But of course smoke exposure is not good for anyone. At the very least it is irritating. But if you have breathing or heart problems, you should take it seriously. Be sure to see your doctor if you find that your health problems get worse from wildfire smoke.
Information is provided by the Chelan-Douglas Health District about the health problems that smoke can cause, who is sensitive to smoke and what precautions you can take to protect yourself from smoke.
Washington Smoke Information
The Washington Smoke Information blog aggregates information for Washington communities affected by smoke from wildland fires. This website regularly updates with current and forecased air quality and wildfire information in Washington.
Air Quality Monitoring
The Department of Ecology provides real time air quality monitoring. There are permanent air monitors located in Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Chelan.
What does it mean?
The Washington Air Quality Advisory for Smoke and Other Fine Particle Air Pollution guide categorizes air quality from Good to Hazardous. The air qualtiy guide can help you determine the meaning of these categories and what precautions to take.
What should schools do?
The Washington State Department of Health has provided public health recommendations for schools on fine particle air pollution (smoke). This includes recommendations on recess, P.E., and athletic events and practices.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
The Washington State Department of Health has provided recommendations for shools and buildings with mechanical ventilation to improve ventilation and indoor air quality during wildfire smoke events. Smoke can enter and leave buildings through the mechanical ventialation systems, natural ventilation (windows/doors), and infiltration (through small cracks). Tightly closed buildings can reduce exposure to outdoor air pollution.
N-95 Respirator Masks
IF you must go outside during poor air quality conditions, respirator masks, labeled N-95 or N-100, can provide some protection. Anyone with lung or heart disease or who is chronically ill should check with their health care provider before using any mask. Using respirator masks can make it harder to breathe, which may make existing medical conditions worse.
What if I’m driving through an area affected by smoke?
Individuals can reduce the amount of smoke in their vehicles by keeping the windows and vents closed, and, if available, operating the air conditioning in “re-circulate” mode. However, in hot weather a car’s interior can heat up very quickly to temperatures that far exceed those outdoors, and heat stress or heat exhaustion can result. Children and pets should never be left unattended in a vehicle with the windows closed. The ventilation system of older cars typically removes a small portion of the particles coming in from outside, while newer models often have an air filter that removes most particles. Most vehicles can re-circulate the inside air, which will help keep the particle levels lower. Drivers should check the owner’s manual and assure that the system is set correctly to minimize entry of outdoor smoke and particles. However, recent research has shown that carbon dioxide levels can quickly accumulate to very high levels (more than 5000 parts per million) in newer cars when vents and windows are closed and the recirculation setting is used. Therefore, if driving a recent model vehicle for more than a short period of time, it may be a good idea to briefly open windows or vents occasionally to avoid becoming groggy from carbon dioxide build-up. Finally, vehicles should not be used as a shelter, but as means to get to one or to leave the area.
Protecting Your Health after a Wildfire
In response to the Sleepy Hollow fires in 2015, the Health District provided these guidelines for evacuees to consider in order to protect their health when returning to their homes to assess damage and begin the cleanup process.
Disposal of Burned Structures and Debris from Wildfires
Fires leave ashes, charred wood, melted plastics, damaged metals, burned appliances, roofing material, dead and dying trees and landscaping plants, cracked foundations and other debris. The information below is to help property owners and contractors plan the proper disposal of remaining debris to keep their community environment safe and themselves in compliance with local and State environmental regulations.
After a fire, snakes may have moved from their normal habitats into new and unexpected areas, including homes. When you return to your home, if you see a snake in your home, call animal control. More information on how to prevent or respond to snake bites is available from the CDC.
Water and Food Safety
Power outages can pose a number of health threats. Without electricity it can be difficult to heat your home or cook safely, keep food refrigerated or obtain drinking water. The fact sheets from the Department of Health provide information that can help keep you safe.
Power outages may mean your refrigerator, stove, or microwave cannot work. When food is not kept cold or is not fully cooked the food can make you sick.
Power outages can lead to drinking water system contamination. If you suspect the well water is unsafe because of chemicals, oils, poisonous substances, sewage or other contaminants, do not drink the water. Don't drink water that is dark colored, has an odor or contains solid materials. More well water safety information is avialble from our Environmental Health Department at (509) 886-6400.
Be Ready! Wildfires (CDC link)
Livestock Disposal Manual (WSDA)
Wildland Fire Chemical Clean-Up.pdf
InciWeb - Incident Information system
Chelan County Emergency Management
Surveillance Investigation of the Cardiopulmonary Health Effects of the 2012 Wildfires in North Central Washington State