Wildfire is a serious concern for most of us, not just the danger of the fire itself but also the smoke that can travel for hundreds or thousands of miles. The smoke from burning wood can be more toxic than those from car exhaust. Those of us that don’t have good ways of keeping the smoke out of our homes or who need to spend a few hours outside each day need to know how bad the smoke is or is going to be in order to be properly prepared.
After you have checked out our post on some of the best ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke, it’s great to know how to plan. If you want to know about the smoke levels in your area, take a look at some of those resources.
State-Level Smoke Forecast from AirNow.gov
The first and best place to go for anything related to air quality is the EPA, who maintains a vast network of public air quality sensors throughout the country. Real-time information from these sensors is available at Airnow.gov, but it can be a little difficult to navigate and to find the best information. For up-to-the-second information on where the smoke currently is and where it’s blowing, they maintain a map specifically for wildfire here:
They also use weather information to forecast smoke the following day, but that is a separate map that can be hard to find, but the link is below. Click “Forecast - Today” or “Forecast - Tomorrow” on the left under “Contours”:
If you’re trying to figure out if it’s possible to put errands off for a few days to avoid the smoke, there are also state-level recommendations on AirNow.gov. Depending on the state and the area, smoke could be forecast for two days. But here are the links for the states in the Northeastern corner of the US:
Where to escape the smoke
If you’ve taped up your windows and have the HEPA purifier on full blast yet are still having problems with the smoke, you can also use some online resources to leave the area if possible. The EPA’s sensors are great but not only few and far between, but they don’t measure anyone’s indoor air.
Purple Air is a company that sells air quality sensors and makes their data public. Their map offers more granular air quality coverage in populated areas, and you have the option to select only indoor sensors to find the closest city or state where the indoor air isn’t ruined by the outdoor air.
When do I stay in?
The EPA tells us that breathing smoke particles can cause a lot of problems, particularly among sensitive individuals. They define sensitive individuals as people with lung disease such as asthma, older adults, children and teenagers, and people who are active outdoors. The only reason the active outdoors group is considered sensitive is their long time of exposure to any possible bad air. If your indoor air is the same or similar to the outdoor air, then you should probably consider yourself part of that last group as well. Finally, smoke damage adds up over time, so there really isn’t an amount of smoke that anyone should ignore. We all should try our best to minimize our exposure, and sensitive groups need to really take care when the AQI is over 100.
However, it’s important to remember that the AQI is a time-weighted average and that sitting around is also unhealthy. So spending one or two hours out of the whole day in bad air would have a small impact if you come home to good air quality. One study (linked here) found that the exercise benefits from a 30-minute outdoor walk will almost always outweigh the negative impacts of bad air quality in all but the worst circumstances. The study only looked at healthy individuals, those in sensitive groups should think twice about any extra exposure to smoke.
Keep an eye on your local news to know how the fire containment is progressing, and on this blog, our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more information on what’s in your air and how to deal with it.