CA wildfires produce hazy conditions on South Coast
The combined smoke of many wildfires burning through California has made its way to Santa Barbara County, leading the county Air Pollution Control District to issue a local air quality warning.
According to APCD public information officer Lyz Hoffman, much of the smoke that has blown into Santa Barbara County originates in Monterey County, where the River and Carmel fires are currently burning.
Local air quality could remain impacted for the next several days, and Ms. Hoffman told the News-Press that the APCD will be monitoring conditions this weekend to determine whether the warning will continue.
As long as the air quality remains impacted by the smoke, Ms. Hoffman recommended Santa Barbara County residents check the APCD website for hourly air condition reports, avoid strenuous outdoor activity, and stay indoors as much as possible. Staying indoors is most important for those who suffer from heart or respiratory conditions, older adults, pregnant women and children.
Santa Barbara County Public Health Department public information officer Jackie Ruiz also recommended local residents avoid spending too much time outdoors. She added that the cloth masks commonly worn amid the COVID-19 pandemic do not protect the wearer from particulate matter like the N-95 masks, which are meant for purposes of public health and in limited supply.
“Those cloth face coverings are really meant to protect our neighbors from our respiratory droplets, but they’re not intended to protect us from wildfire smoke,” she said.
The smoke’s arrival in Santa Barbara County coincides with a heatwave which, along with stagnant air conditions, has increased ozone levels in certain areas of the county. As now is a time when residents might like to crack a window at night and let cool air circulate through their homes for relief, Ms. Hoffman said it’s best to strike a balance between beating the heat and keeping smoke outside. To do this, she suggested only keeping windows open so long as the area in which one lives isn’t smokey.
For residents who can afford to spend some money to keep the air inside their homes clean, the APCD recommends creating a “clean air room.” According to agency infographics, this can be done by purchasing a high-efficiency particulate air purifier, which can reduce particulate matter indoors by 90%. A HEPA purifier for an average-sized bedroom costs around $75 and can be purchased at hardware stores and through online retailers.
With a 20-inch by 20-inch box fan, a MERV air filter with the same dimensions, and duct tape, those who want to clean the air in their rooms can make their own HEPA filter by taping the filter to the back of the box fan. The components for a build-your-own HEPA filter cost around $40.
A homemade HEPA filter should be turned off while one is sleeping and shouldn’t be left unattended, as it can be a fire hazard. When used during a wildfire, the MERV filter on a homemade HEPA filter should be replaced more frequently than usual.
For the best possible indoor air quality during a wildfire, the APCD also recommends minimizing sources of indoor air pollution. In addition to keeping windows closed, ways of reducing indoor air pollution include refraining from burning candles or firewood, using a range hood while cooking, contacting a professional to check for air leaks with a blower door test, and checking with an HVAC professional to see what MERV filter rating one’s house can handle.