2023 Oregon Wildfires and Your Health: Indoor Air Quality Tips

Oregon has experienced an increase in destructive wildfires in recent years, burning millions of acres and spreading smoke throughout the state. And with a hot, dry season on the horizon, 2023 Oregon Wildfires could be even more extreme this year.

If you’re a homeowner in the greater Portland, OR area, protecting your home and family from the smoke and ash produced by wildfires is critical. As flames leap and smoke billows, the very air we breathe becomes a battleground for our health and well-being. The Plaid Pros at D&F Plumbing, Heating and Cooling want to provide a few tips on how you can monitor and improve your indoor air quality during the 2023 Oregon fire season.

Understanding the Impact of Oregon Wildfires

Oregon’s wildfire history is marked by a legacy of immense destruction. In fact, some of the largest wildfires in the state’s recorded history can be traced back to the 1800s. However, the menace of mega-fires has made a comeback since 2002, fueled by a combination of factors including the consequences of poor forest management practices over the past 100 years.

One of these notable wildfires occurred in 2012, engulfing southeastern Oregon in its fiery grip. Known as the Long Draw Fire, it holds the dubious distinction of being the largest wildfire Oregon has witnessed since the turn of the 20th century. Sparked by lightning, this massive inferno left a staggering 557,028 acres burned in its wake. The battle to extinguish the flames was an arduous one, lasting nearly a month.

These historical events serve as sobering reminders of the scale and devastation that wildfires can unleash upon the beautiful landscapes of Oregon. But the impacts extend far beyond the loss of homes and forests. Wildfires have profound effects on both the environment and public health.

Experts say that no distance is entirely safe from the influence of wildfire smoke. In fact, microscopic particles and gasses can travel thousands of miles, infiltrating homes and causing air pollution concerns.

Monitoring air pollution levels is crucial during Oregon wildfires to stay informed about the severity of your situation.

Forest burning in Oregon wildfire

Monitoring Air Quality: Real-time Oregon Wildfire Maps

During the 2023 Oregon wildfires, staying informed about the current fire situation is vital for safeguarding indoor air quality. If you’re wondering if there are fires in Oregon today, real-time Oregon wildfire maps and apps like this one serve as invaluable resources. They’ll provide you with up-to-date information on wildfire locations and intensity.

By accessing these maps, you can make informed decisions to protect your family and mitigate the impact of smoke and pollutants on your indoor environment.

Accessing and interpreting the information on the maps is simple:

  1. Visit the Oregon Wildfire Response and Recovery’s official website regularly for real-time updates and interactive maps.
  2. Keep an eye on active wildfires, fire perimeters, and progression to understand the immediate threats.
  3. Check the air quality index (AQI) data on Oregon’s Depart of Environmental Quality’s website to assess the level of air pollution and smoke impact in your area.

Understanding the Oregon DEQ Air Quality Index Map

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a color-coded scale that indicates the concentration level of air pollutants. Levels range from 0 to 500, and the higher the AQI reading, the more dangerous it is for your health.

The Oregon DEQ Air Quality Index (AQI) Map gives a clear, concise overview of air quality levels in Oregon. When you view it here, you’ll see the map color-coded with six main categories ranging from “Good” to “Hazardous” and each has a corresponding AQI number:

  • Good (AQI 0-50): Air Quality is considered satisfactory and poses no health risk to Oregon residents.
  • Moderate (AQI 51-100): Air Pollution could affect those with sensitive respiratory systems.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (AQI 101-150): People in sensitive groups may experience more significant health effects.
  • Unhealthy (AQI 151-200): People with heart and/or lung conditions are advised to limit their outdoor activities.
  • Very Unhealthy (AQI 201-300): Everyone should avoid any physical activity outdoors.
  • Hazardous (AQI 301-500+): All Oregonians should remain indoors and keep activities to a minimum.

In 2020, Oregon experienced some of the highest AQI readings in the nation due to smoke from wildfires blanketing the state. In fact, bad air quality days seem to be more frequent

So for the current 2023 fire season, be sure to pay attention to any health advisories issued by local and state governments, as well as warnings from medical professionals who can better assess the specific risk factors in our area.

Indoor air quality monitoring device

Impact of Washington Fires on Oregon: Assessing Risks and Connections

The impact of Washington fires on Oregon should not be overlooked, as our neighboring state can have notable consequences for air quality and fire spread.

Understanding these connections is crucial in comprehending the potential risks for Oregon:

  • Smoke Drift: Smoke generated from Washington fires can drift southward, affecting air quality in Oregon. This can lead to respiratory health issues and breathing difficulties for residents in the affected areas.
  • Fire Spread: If wildfires in Washington are not contained, there is a risk of fire spread into Oregon, posing a direct threat to communities and homes.
  • Shared Resources: During wildfire seasons, firefighting resources and personnel may be shared among states. Consequently, the availability of resources to combat fires in Oregon could be impacted.

To be prepared, homeowners in Oregon should stay informed about the status of fires in Washington and be aware of prevailing wind patterns. You can explore the Washington State wildfires map here.

With this knowledge, you can take proactive measures to protect indoor air quality and maintain home safety. Closely monitoring the situation and taking necessary precautions will help you mitigate the potential impact of Washington wildfires on your Oregon household.

Washington state wildfire map

Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke: Protecting Respiratory Health

Do you know someone with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory ailments? How about children, elderly adults, or someone who’s pregnant?

These are some of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to wildfire smoke. But no one is immune from the health risks of inhaling smoke particles and gasses released by wildfires.

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Exposure to wildfire smoke can pose significant health risks, particularly to respiratory health. The complex mixture of particles and pollutants present in smoke can lead to various adverse effects.

Let’s explore the health problems and risks associated with wildfire smoke:

Respiratory Irritation

Wildfire smoke contains super fine particles, known as PM2.5, which can irritate the respiratory system and cause symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

According to the American Lung Association, exposure to PM2.5 particles increases the risk of respiratory problems and exacerbates pre-existing conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD1).

Increased Risk of Respiratory Infections

The inhalation of smoke particles can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to respiratory infections. Studies have shown an association between wildfire smoke exposure and increased hospital admissions for respiratory issues, including pneumonia and bronchitis.

Elevated Cardiovascular Risks

Wildfire smoke also contains harmful gasses and chemicals, such as carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Prolonged exposure to these pollutants has been linked to an increased risk of:

  • Cardiovascular problems (including heart attacks and strokes)
  • Increased risk of blood clots
  • Reduced lung function
  • Allergic reactions
  • Cancer

Long-term Health Impacts

Like we mentioned above, the Long Draw Fire lasted nearly a month. So it’s important to note that continuous exposure to wildfire smoke over an extended period can have long-term health consequences.

Research suggests that chronic exposure to particulate matter from wildfires may contribute to the development of chronic respiratory diseases and may even shorten life expectancy.

With the recent Covid-19 pandemic and the compromised health of many individuals, it’s more important than ever to monitor and improve indoor air quality during Oregon’s fire season.

Enhancing Indoor Air Quality: Air Purifiers and Filtration Systems

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the acrid smell of smoke permeating your home. You rush to check on your loved ones, only to find them struggling to breathe, their coughs echoing through the smoke-filled rooms.

It’s another sleepless night spent coughing and wheezing, a constant reminder of the perilous air quality caused by wildfires. But what if there was a way to shield your family from this invisible threat?

Indoor air quality isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Especially during these harrowing wildfire events. The insidious smoke particles and pollutants seeping into your home pose serious health risks to your loved ones. But there is hope — air purifiers and filtration systems can be your family’s lifeline, your armor against the relentless assault of wildfire smoke.

These devices are becoming increasingly popular in areas affected by wildfire smoke as homeowners take charge of their air quality.

Here are the most effective types of air purifiers and filtration systems:

HEPA Filters: Minimizing Smoke Particles

High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are the gold standard for removing airborne particles. They can capture 99.97% of airborne particulates as small as 0.3 microns, making them ideal for capturing smoke particles and other allergens in your indoor environment.

However, just swapping out your current heater or air conditioner filter may not be the best decision. HEPA filters are generally used in medical centers and science labs. Some heating and cooling systems aren’t designed to support these filters, and attempting to install one could result in insufficient airflow, decreasing efficiency, and increasing utility costs.

Air filter replacement for furnace

Air Purifiers: Filtering Out the Threats

Air purifiers offer a powerful solution to filter out invisible threats and protect your family’s health. With advanced technology and innovative designs, these systems are capable of capturing and trapping smoke particles and pollutants, ensuring that the air you breathe is clean and safe. There are a few key options available for air purification:

  • HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) Filters: Like we mentioned above, HEPA technology removes fine particles, including smoke, pollen, and pet dander, with exceptional efficiency. So beyond wildfires, air purifiers with a HEPA filter can also provide relief from seasonal allergies and pet-related irritants.
  • Activated Carbon Filters: Neutralize odors and capture chemicals present in smoke, providing additional purification. Activated carbon also helps with other environmental threats such as mold spores and bacteria, or VOCs from things like cleaning products and paint.
  • UV-C Light Systems: Utilize ultraviolet light to neutralize airborne pathogens, reducing the risk of respiratory infections. This is helpful outside of wildfire season when bacteria and viruses can be more easily spread indoors. This is a great option if your home is prone to airborne illnesses in the fall and winter months.

Whole-Home Air Purification: Comprehensive Protection

To provide your family with comprehensive protection from wildfire smoke and any other airborne irritants (like cold, flu, and allergy season), a whole-home air purification system is the absolute best solution.

These systems work in conjunction with your Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system to continuously purify the air throughout your entire home.

The Plaid Pros at D&F Plumbing, Heating and Cooling can integrate these systems seamlessly, ensuring that every room is protected.

Consider the following options:

  • Whole-Home Air Purifiers: Attach directly to your HVAC system, purifying the air as it circulates throughout your home.
  • Ventilation Systems: Bring in fresh outdoor air while filtering out pollutants, maintaining a healthy balance between indoor and outdoor air.
  • Air Exchangers: Replace stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air, effectively diluting smoke particles and maintaining a healthier indoor environment.

The cost of not protecting your indoor air quality could be far greater than the cost of installing air purification or filtration systems in your home. The investment is well worth the protection and comfort it provides in the long run.

Ventilation Techniques: Maintaining Fresh Indoor Air

There’s nothing like a fresh, cool breeze to keep your home cool and comfortable during the hot summer months. But in times of smoke and poor air quality, it’s important to keep your windows closed to prevent dangerous pollutants from entering your home.

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And believe it or not, even in normal conditions, the air inside your home can be more polluted than the air outside. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveals that indoor air pollutants can reach levels 2 to 5 times higher than outside, and sometimes even more than 100 times higher!

Household air pollution can come from a variety of sources, including cleaning products, paints, building materials, and cooking. That’s why taking care of your indoor air quality is so important.

Indoor air quality is heavily influenced by the air circulation within your home. During the Oregon wildfires, it becomes even more vital to properly ventilate your living spaces.

Ventilation helps in removing stagnant air, reducing the concentration of pollutants, and allowing fresh outdoor air to enter your home. By increasing the airflow, you can mitigate the effects of smoke particles and improve the overall quality of the air you breathe.

Maximize Natural Ventilation

  1. Open windows strategically: When the outdoor air quality is relatively good, open windows on opposite sides of your home to create a cross-breeze. This helps draw fresh air inside while pushing out pollutants.
  2. Time your ventilation: Take advantage of times when the air quality is better, such as early mornings or evenings, to ventilate your home. Again, monitor the real-time Oregon fires map and Oregon’s current air quality index to determine when the outdoor air quality is favorable.
  3. Utilize window fans: Position window fans facing outward to exhaust indoor air. This creates negative pressure, pulling in fresh air from other open windows.
  4. Use door draft stoppers: Seal gaps under doors to prevent smoke from infiltrating your home. This can be particularly helpful during periods of heavy smoke.
  5. Natural air purifiers: Incorporate plants in your home to naturally filter pollutants from the air. Spider plants, ficus trees, and snake plants are some of the most effective varieties for air purification.

Woman with sign asking "How is the air quality in your home?"

HVAC Maintenance in Portland, OR

In addition to natural ventilation, an efficient HVAC system is essential for proper air circulation throughout your home. It’s important to regularly maintain and inspect your heating and cooling systems if you want them to run efficiently and effectively:

  1. Schedule annual maintenance: Ensure your air conditioner and heater are properly maintained, with regular inspections and filter changes. High-efficiency filters, such as those rated MERV 13 or higher, can effectively capture smoke particles and other pollutants.
  2. Consider whole-house ventilation: Whole-house ventilation systems, such as heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) or energy recovery ventilators (ERVs), help exchange stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air while minimizing energy loss. These systems incorporate filtration, reducing the entry of smoke particles.
  3. Portable air purifiers: Place air purifiers with HEPA filters strategically in rooms most frequently used. These devices can help filter out smoke particles and improve air quality in specific areas of your home.

As flames rage and smoke engulfs our beloved Oregon, proper ventilation becomes the lifeline that carries away suffocating particles, safeguarding your family’s precious breaths. By implementing these techniques, you can create a safer and healthier environment for your family. Need maintenance for your heating or cooling system? Click here.

How HVAC Maintenance Improves Indoor Air Quality

As invisible invaders silently infiltrate your home, lurking within the very air you breathe, your family’s well-being hangs in the balance. The battleground lies within the condition of your HVAC system.

Over time, dust, dirt, and other contaminants can accumulate within the system, compromising its efficiency and the quality of the air it circulates even when there are no active wildfires nearby.

Regular cleaning and inspection of your HVAC system help remove these pollutants, allowing it to function optimally.

There are 3 areas of your HVAC system that require special attention:

  1. Air Filter Replacement: One of the most crucial maintenance tasks is regularly changing your HVAC system’s air filters. High-quality filters can effectively capture smoke particles and other pollutants. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for filter replacement frequency. In general, changing your filter once per season will help keep your system clean and your air quality high.
  2. System Inspection: Reduced performance or a breakdown means your HVAC system is not working properly, putting the air quality in your home at risk. Professional inspections and the cleaning of components – such as coils, fans, motors, and electrical connections – will prevent costly repairs and help keep your system running smoothly throughout the wildfire season. It’s important to schedule an inspection at least once a year, or more often if you have noticed reduced performance from your HVAC system.
  3. Duct Cleaning: Over time, dust, debris, and even mold can accumulate in your HVAC system’s ductwork. Professional duct cleaning removes these contaminants, ensuring that clean air flows through your home.

Indoor Air Quality Services Near Portland, OR

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article — now, it’s time to take action…

As a trusted provider of indoor air quality services in Portland, OR, D&F Plumbing, Heating and Cooling can help prepare and protect your home when wildfires rage in Oregon.

Our skilled technicians can help you:

  • Select the best HVAC, ventilation, and filtration systems for your needs
  • Inspect and clean your existing system
  • Replace air filters
  • Install whole-house ventilation
  • Provide recommendations to maintain air quality and reduce smoke particles

Since 1927, D&F Plumbing, Heating and Cooling has been providing superior service to Portland-area homeowners. Our commitment to the community is unwavering, and we strive to give you peace of mind when smoke blankets the area.

We’re here to keep your indoor air quality safe during this challenging time. Contact us below to get help protecting your Portland-area home!

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