By Sarah Schrock
Despite my efforts to arrive at a column that doesn’t have to do with the fire, it’s pretty hard to focus on anything else since it’s sort of all-consuming.
Large fires have become so prevalent, so consistently predictable, that conspiracy theorists are having a hey-day. Heard by me: It’s Russian spies lighting them to destabilize the West Coast. Maybe, and well, it’s sort of working. It’s no accident that I planned for my kids to be visiting with family out of the valley most of August.
Conspiracies aside, it has become pretty normal in August to go into coping mode during these smoke-filled days of haze. There are two general methods of coping with this state of air — both of which leave little opportunity for social interaction from which to develop a good human interest story, so bear with me. We are in a primitive threat response mode — it’s fight or flight time.
The fight response, where we stay here and stick-it-out, becomes an obsessive game that hinges on a delicate balance of air management. It’s an act of precision and timing, of opening and closing windows and doors in an attempt to balance the indoor temperature and air quality with that of invading outdoor air quality and heat. Moving the portable air purifier between rooms, having a stash of N95 facemasks at hand, and obsessively checking the Air Quality Index are the new normal. I have ordered new air filters for our purifier (which I should have done months ago), and I am contemplating fashionable N99 masks in different colors and patterns for the whole family (available on Amazon, of course).
When we are in stick-it-out-and-fight mode, we don’t really get out except to move water around, feed animals, and pick a few tomatoes and cucumbers. Cabin fever sets in and the Internet becomes a lifeline for entertainment, social media and fire information.
One new addition to the fire information toolbox is the Purpleair.com project, which is a clearinghouse of real-time air quality monitors across the country. The Methow Clean Air project launched a pilot project this summer with local residents who volunteered to install Purpleair monitors. These monitors, in addition to the official Department of Ecology monitors, provide localized air quality data. It’s pretty interesting how variable the air can be from one locale in the valley to another. Rest assured though — Twisp is just going to be bad for a while. But with this information, you can take a drive up or down valley for a little escape from the oppression of the smoke.
A little tip on masks: You need at least an N95 mask with two straps to reduce particulate inhalation from smoke. If it doesn’t seal around your face, with a metal band, it won’t do much good. You can find these at hardware stores. Surgical masks won’t work either.
The second instinctual response to this smoky threat is flight. We opted for this tactic over the weekend and headed up into the hills in the Mt. Baker area. The moist air was a refreshing reprieve. We watched the plumes from the Entiat Fire and our own Crescent Mountain from the top of Mt. Watson, cringing as the columns ballooned overhead in the distance. If you can drive over the mountains to get out of the air, even for a couple hours, give your lungs a break and make a day trip. We ran into two valley residents at the Shell Station in Marblemount who were in flight mode too.
Russian spies, global warming, a century of fire suppression — regardless of who we blame, we are all in this together. More heat is on the way. We should anticipate some aggravated attitudes. Let’s all try to be patient with our loved ones and do our best to stay somewhat humanly pleasant.