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Wildfire Season is Here: How to Keep Your Indoor Air Clean and Safe

Many of you will remember the thick haze and heavy smell of smoke that blanketed the air for hundreds of millions of North Americans in 2023. As we experience longer days and warmer weather, summer is quickly approaching. With the changing of the seasons comes again the increased threat that comes with wildfire season. The summer and fall seasons in North America create a particularly higher risk due to a variety of natural and human-caused reasons. However, beyond the normal seasonal patterns, there has been a notable increase in the intensity and spread of wildfires in recent years. Factors such as climate change and improper forest practice have created conditions which prolong and intensify the wildfire seasons.

Why are wildfires on the rise? Controlled Burn

Climate Change

As one can imagine, the answer to why these severe fires are on the rise is complex and multifaceted, but largely it is being driven by climate change. According to the EPA; “2012–2021 was the warmest decade on record since thermometer-based observations began.” With these increased temperatures comes a lot of other environmental effects such as longer periods of drought. During wildfire season, when significant amounts of vegetation and soil become really dry, it essentially turns forests into massive tinderboxes ready to catch fire. Increased temperatures often bring higher wind speeds, which can exacerbate the spread and intensity. During wildfire season we need to be on high alert these days.

Improper Forestry

Another major factor contributing to the rise of these severe wildfires is improper forestry practices. Often stemming from improper species management and suppression of natural fire (which often go hand in hand), this has led to many acres of forests being extra prone to severe wildfire spread. Historically, small low intensity fires play a crucial role in maintaining forest health by properly clearing out the understory and deadwood before the wildfire season. When these fires are unnecessarily suppressed, the forest understory can pile up with highly flammable vegetation and deadwood, allowing the spread to cover more area and reach larger trees. These fire suppressed forests are also notorious for being riddled with invasive species which typically are not naturally fire adept for the local environment.

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How does wildfire season effect human health?

Beyond the risk of widespread destruction to the environment and to property, how will this issue affect human health? Exposure to wildfire smoke can have a variety of negative health effects. According to WebMD; “Exposure to fine particles may impact how well your lungs work. It can lead to inflammation. It may also impact how your body removes viruses and bacteria from your lungs.” Some additional symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure include:

  • Runny nose
  • Phlegm
  • Stinging eyes
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Scratchy throat
  • Sinus irritation
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Asthma attack

Exposure to smoke can also be linked to more serious cardiovascular issues such as heart failure, heart attack, stroke, etc. People with preexisting conditions can be at the highest risk for suffering from these effects. Although these short-term problems have been studied, it’s still unclear to researchers the depth of long-term effects that may stem from wildfire smoke exposure.

Mitigating the effects of wildfire seasonWildfire Season Over City

It can be an uneasy and helpless feeling, knowing that the air outside is compromised during these fires. However, there are a few steps you can take to mitigate potential negative health effects from exposure.

Stay inside – The most basic actionable step you can take when air quality is compromised due to wildfires is to stay inside with doors and windows shut. This will help to minimize the flow of smoky air into the indoor space. However, this as a standalone method may not always be sufficient.

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Air Purification and Filtration – One of the best proven ways to improve the air quality indoors is to install a purification/filtration system in your home. Technology such as PCO (photocatalytic oxidation), carbon absorption, and HEPA filtration can all be leveraged to maintain good indoor air quality even during times of wildfires. Wildfire smoke contains particles from a wide range of sizes and also contains a variety of harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds). With PCO technology, VOCs are broken down into harmless water and carbon dioxide molecules, making the air safe to breathe. Carbon filters can also absorb and reduce presence of VOCs. HEPA filters are able to handle particles as small as .3 microns. There are even portable air purifier devices that incorporate all of these technologies into the same compact system.

Ventilation and Sealing – Although it may sound counterintuitive, proper ventilation to receive fresh air is still necessary during wildfires. However, you may want to make sure that any fresh air being brought in is being filtered/treated while polluted air gets expelled. Making sure your home is properly sealed is important to reduce any unwanted drafts filled with contaminated air.

As we get closer to summer, the threat of wildfires increases due to longer days, warmer weather, along with both natural and human-caused factors. Hotter and drier conditions are generally causing the wildfire season to last longer these days. On top of the temperature, more severe wildfires can also be from improper forestry practices. Wildfires are known to cause significant damage to forests and potentially homes and buildings, but it can also wreak havoc on your health. In order to protect yourself during wildfire season it’s important to stay indoors, use air purification systems, ensure proper ventilation and seal up your home. Taking these steps can help protect your health and improve indoor air quality during wildfire season.

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