Air district encourages clean air rooms as wildfires draw near

Valley Air District encourages Valley residents to prepare for smoke impact following the rise of wildfire season

TULARE COUNTY – Wildfire season for 2022 has arrived in Central California. With the recent Washburn Fire in Yosemite National Park as a reminder, residents should take caution and prepare accordingly for future fires in Tulare County.

Hot and dry drought conditions create the potential for wildfires due to the build-up of dry vegetation during summer months. This presents a high risk for hotter, faster-moving fires in mountain communities and leads to smoke impacts across the region. Tulare County’s most recent wildfires have thrived in such an environment leading to hundreds of thousands of scorched acreage in the forest.

For these circumstances, the Valley Air District is encouraging residents to be prepared and plan now for potential poor air quality from the smoke, which could reach the Valley as the weather reaches hotter temperatures.

The Valley Air District reminds residents to change out air filters in their home and set up a Clean Air Room for when smoke impacts become severe to the Valley. A Clean Air Room is a room for a home/apartment where individuals and families can escape the worst of wildfire smoke impacts. To create a Clean Air Room, follow these steps: 

  1. Choose a room where you and your family can relax and and spend majority of your time
  2. Prevent smoke from entering the room by tightly closing doors and windows
  3. Stay cool. Run fans, window air conditioners/central air conditioning
  4. Filter the air in the room with a store-bought air purifier or create a DIY air purifier
  5. Avoid creating smoke or other particles indoors (no candles, open flame cooking or smoking)
  6. Spend as much time as possible in the clean air room to get the most benefits
  7. Remember that cloth masks don’t work for wildfire smoke, wear N95 masks instead

Alternatively, valley residents from disadvantaged communities can participate in the Clean Air Rooms Pilot Program from the Valley Air District. Those who sign up can potentially receive a portable air filtration unit to use in their home, which can help purify the air during episodes of poor air quality. Through the program, HEPA air filtration devices can be offered to reduce indoor particulate matter by more than 90% in well-sealed indoor environments. According to the Valley Air website, solicitations for interested applicants will be open by Friday, July 15, but if funding for the program remains available at the close of this period, a third solicitation period should be opened.

The air district stresses the importance of protection from particulate matter because it can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic bronchitis and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Individuals with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of exposure. Those with existing respiratory conditions, including COVID-19, and young children and elderly are especially susceptible to the health effects from this form of pollution. Residents experiencing poor air quality due to wildfire smoke should move to a filtered, air-conditioned environment with windows closed. Common cloth and paper masks being used as protection from COVID-19 may not be sufficient protection from wildfire smoke inhalation. For outdoor workers and other individuals that may not be able to remain indoors, state health authorities recommend the use of N95 face masks as feasible.

For details on current and past wildfires affecting the Valley and resources to stay protected from exposure to wildfire smoke, visit the district’s Wildfire Information page at www.valleyair.org/wildfires. Additionally, individuals can access RAAN to check air quality at any Valley location on myRAAN.com or use the free “Valley Air” mobile app. People can also view the EPA’s AirNow Fire and Smoke map at http://fire.airnow.gov/ for information regarding current air quality and smoke impacts.

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