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Fire Season

3 Tips for Safeguarding Your Home and Health During Fire Season

By Tanya Svoboda
January 2021

The wildfires that California and Arizona experienced in 2020 were overwhelming. Fires burned in populated areas, causing unprecedented property loss. In California more than 10,000 homes were destroyed and Arizona’s fires blazed across 700,000 acres of land..

The air pollution caused by the wildfires continues to impact residents, an issue that is concerning at any time but especially so for residents battling COVID-19 . Stephanie Christenson, MD is a pulmonologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She stated in the article Wellness Design Strategies For Addressing Wildfire Smoke and Ash in Your Homes During Covid Pandemic, “There is certainly reason to think that air pollution in general, and wildfires specifically, could increase risk of worse COVID-19 symptoms and outcomes.”

For homeowners living in areas that are not under evacuation orders, traditional home hardening practices can help to protect your property. Below are three tips for safeguarding your home and your health against smoke resulting from area wildfires.

1. Set Up a Clean Room

If the Air Quality Index indicates unhealthy smoke levels in your area you may be advised to create a clean room.

  • Choose a room that is big enough to comfortably fit everyone who lives in your home, including pets. If you have a bedroom with an attached bathroom, that’s a great choice.
  • Close the room off from outside air by closing windows.
  • Use an appropriately sized portable air cleaner or filter. If possible, run it continuously on the highest fan setting.
  • Spend as much time as you can in this room.
2. Check Your HVAC System

Your HVAC system can help circulate fresh air throughout your house.

  • If you have a central HVAC system with a fresh air intake, close it, and set the system to recirculate mode.
  • Make sure your HVAC’s filter fits tightly and has been replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, upgrade your filter to MERV 13 or higher.
  • If you have a window AC unit, close the air damper, and make sure the unit is tightly sealed.
  • If you have a portable AC unit with a single hose that vents through a window, do not use it.
  • If you have a portable AC unit with two hoses, make sure the vent kit is tightly sealed.
3. Avoid Activities That Stir Up Fine Particles

As often as possible, dust or mop surfaces in your clean room to prevent settled particles from getting back into the air. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests avoiding the following activities entirely:

  • Smoking cigarettes or pipes.
  • Using gas, propane, or wood-burning stoves.
  • Spraying aerosol products.
  • Frying or broiling food.
  • Burning candles or incense.
  • Vacuuming, unless you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

While wildfires are nothing new to homeowners living in drier climates, managing the dangers of compromised air quality during a pandemic is. Following the above-mentioned steps can help you and your family stay safe in your home during this unprecedented time.


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