Smoke from wildfires has become a recurring seasonal air quality hazard in the western United States and British Columbia during the summer. In the Puget Sound region in 2018, wildfire smoke led to 24 days of poor air quality, including nine days that were considered either unhealthy for sensitive groups or unhealthy for everyone. 

Click the tabs below for a few safety tips:

Check Air Quality

Air quality conditions can change quickly. Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) issues air quality burn bans when smoke threatens the health of residents. The agency also issues air quality forecasts as needed. PSCAA covers King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, working to protect public health, improve neighborhood air quality, and reduce our region’s contribution to climate change.

Burn Ban Information

Fire safety burn bans are issued by the King County Fire Marshal during dry weather conditions when there is elevated danger due to low moisture in trees and vegetation. Outdoor burning in all of King County is affected, and bans are issued in cooperation with other county and state agencies.

Air quality burn bans are issued by Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) to tell people about possible health impacts arising from increased air pollution.

Prepare Now for Wildfire Smoke Season

Consider getting an air purifier. Air purifiers with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter will reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air. A HEPA filter with charcoal will help remove some of the gases from the smoke. If you have asthma or another respiratory condition, make sure you have an inhaler or other medications that you might need. Make an asthma management plan with your healthcare provider. Make plans for indoor activities for kids on smoky days. Consider what your children can do if they need to stay indoors when smoke levels are “unhealthy for sensitive groups” or worse. Staying indoors with windows closed and air conditioning on (if you have it) is your best bet when air quality is poor. Masks don’t work for everyone.

Protect Your Health When Air is Smoky

Check the air quality forecast. Air quality conditions may change quickly. Go to Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s website at pscleanair.org or follow them on Twitter (@pscleanair) for the current smoke level report for King County.

Stay indoors when possible. Limit your physical activity outdoors (including running, biking, physical labor, and sports) when:

— the smoke level is “moderate” or worse if you have a health condition (like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or a cold)

— the smoke level is “unhealthy for sensitive groups” or worse if you are pregnant, over age 65, a child or an infant

— the smoke level is “unhealthy for everyone.”

Keep indoor air clean. Close windows and doors. Don’t smoke, use candles, or vacuum. Use an air cleaner with a HEPA filter if possible. Use fans or an air conditioner (AC) when it’s hot, if possible. Set your AC to recirculate, rather than bringing in fresh air. If you don’t have AC and it’s too hot to stay home, go to a place with AC like a mall, the library, or a movie theater. If you do use AC, be sure to check and clean or change the filter regularly.

If your health conditions get worse around smoke, contact your health care provider. Call 9-1-1 if you or someone else has serious symptoms, like trouble breathing.

Check on others. Check on elderly or at-risk neighbors. Make sure they have what they need. Offer them a place with cleaner indoor air if available.

Public Health – Seattle & King County has additional information and tips about dealing with wildfire smoke.

Masks and Wildfire Smoke

The right mask and proper fit can reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke, but they don’t work for everyone. Wearing a mask may worsen existing medical conditions. Wearing a mask makes it more difficult to breathe because it takes extra effort to move air through the mask. If you have breathing problems (like asthma or COPD) or heart disease, check with your healthcare provider before using any mask.

Some masks offer limited protection. Only use a mask after first trying other, more effective ways to avoid smoke, like staying indoors and reducing outdoor activity. Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 can filter out fine particles from smoke but not hazardous gases (like carbon monoxide). Cloth (wet or dry), paper masks, and tissues will NOT filter out wildfire smoke.

If you choose to use one, your mask must fit tightly to be effective. Straps must go above and below the ears and the mask should fit over the nose and under the chin. The mask should not let air in from the sides around the nose and chin. Masks do not work on people with beards or young children because they do not fit snugly on their faces. Questions about masks? Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. Get more information.

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