Preparing for poor air quality ahead of wildfire season

SPOKANE, WA. — At Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, they take readings by the hour to measure & determine our air quality. Lisa Woodard, the Manager of Communications & Outreach tells us, “During wildfire season, air quality changes rapidly.”

Their team is already preparing for the season ahead by coordinating their efforts with surrounding health agencies like the Department of Health, the Local Health District, and the Weather Service. Woodard said, “One of the things we try to do is to communicate to the public the steps they can take to get ready for wildfire season.” In short, that is to stay indoors.

Dr. Fatima Ajaz is a pulmonologist and she’s seen what can happen. She told 4 News Now, “People end up going outside and doing some physical activity and by that time, it’s too late, their asthma or COPD is exacerbated.”

Even if we don’t have a fire burning locally, that smoke can travel into our area. Dr. Ajaz said, “Sometimes it might look clear and the Air Quality Index is still bad.” Your best bet is to stay indoors.

If you’re indoors, you want to do your best to make that air as high-quality as possible. Woodard told us, “One thing that is probably paramount in preparing is making sure your indoor air quality, while at home, is where it needs to be.” This means making sure your HVAC system has been serviced, and you have clean filters. Put window air conditioners and car air conditioners on recirculate and if you’re using a box fan, you can put a filter on that too.

Woodard reminded us, “Even if we don’t have a fire burning locally, that smoke can travel into our area and so it’s important to know how you can protect your health.” For those high-risk groups like those with COPD or asthma, it’s especially important to have a game plan.

Dr. Ajaz gave a key example of how preparation can make all the difference for these groups, “Medication at home instead of driving and going to pick it up and getting their medications while it’s smoky out.”

One thing that won’t help is those face masks you’ve become accustomed to wearing over the past few months. The harmful particles from fire smoke are substantially smaller than those that carry COVID-19.

Dr. Ajaz explained that N-95 masks will block smaller size particles that are most harmful. If you absolutely need to go outdoors, you should wear that mask (and make sure it’s fitted properly), otherwise, you won’t be protected.

At the end of the day, prevention is key.

You can count on the 4 News Now Weather Team to keep you up to date when we have unhealthy to hazardous air quality in the months ahead.

RELATED: Spokane’s air quality ‘hazardous,’ threatening to move beyond air quality index

RELATED: Air quality in Eastern Washington remains in unhealthy to hazardous range

RELATED: Spokane’s air quality returns to ‘good’ as dust settles