Residents urged to take precautions
With two active fires in the Methow Valley — and other fires raging across the west — valley residents will be living with unhealthy, smoky air for the foreseeable future, Aero Methow Rescue Service Director of Services Cindy Button said this week.
“Everyone’s going to have to understand that air quality will be really bad sporadically until the fires are under control,” Button said.
On Tuesday (July 20), air quality in Winthrop and Twisp registered as unhealthy for all groups.
The main pollutant in smoke consists of tiny particles called PM2.5 that result from incomplete combustion. These particles are so small that they can remain airborne for long amounts of time and travel long distances, according to Clean Air Methow, a local organization that works on air-quality issues year-round. PM2.5 particles pose a serious health risk because they can travel into the respiratory tract and penetrate deep into the lungs and sometimes even enter the bloodstream.
People over 65, children, pregnant women, and those with heart or lung disease are especially susceptible to smoke. People with respiratory conditions such as COPD, emphysema or bad asthma who are having trouble breathing or can’t stop coughing should consider leaving the area if they have a place to stay that’s out of the smoke, Button said.
There are ways to protect yourself from smoke, both indoors and out. Air conditioners (set to recirculate air) and air purifiers can mitigate the effects of smoke in a residence or workplace, Button said.
People can make an inexpensive filter using a box fan, a MERV-13 filter and a bungee cord. Instructions are available from Clean Air Methow (see box). Clean Air Methow has a limited supply of box-fan filter kits for people who can’t afford them.
It’s important to check and replace filters on air conditioners and air purifiers regularly, because in these conditions they will turn black quickly and become ineffective, Button said.
Anyone who works or spends time outdoors should wear an N95 mask to filter harmful particulates.
Free N95 masks that filter the tiny, harmful particles from wildfire smoke are available around the valley. COVID masks that have an N95 filter will also work for smoke, but basic fabric masks or disposable paper surgical masks don’t protect you from smoke.