The Crestone Eagle • July, 2021

A dry summer & western fires mean smoky skies for the San Luis Valley

Tips to protect your health

Another dry summer means increased wildfire activity and potentially smoky skies in the San Luis Valley. The San Luis Valley Public Health Partnership encourages residents to be proactive in protecting their health when wildfire smoke or dust is present in the air. Be informed and take action to protect yourself if conditions are unhealthy, whether or not an official warning or advisory has been issued. 

The best way to protect against potentially harmful effects of wildfire smoke is to reduce your exposure. Limit outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or choose lower-intensity activities to reduce your smoke exposure. People who must be outside for extended periods of time in smoky air or an ash-covered area may benefit from using a tight fitting N95 or P100 respirator (mask) to reduce their exposure. 

Keeping windows open during nice weather in order to increase ventilation while the pandemic continues is a smart idea. But, when there is smoke, it’s better to use other ways to clean indoor air. See some ideas below.

Use a portable air cleaner in one or more rooms. Portable air cleaners work best when run continuously with doors and windows closed.

Whenever you can, use air conditioners, heat pumps, fans, and window shades to keep your cleaner air space comfortably cool on hot days.

If you have a forced-air system in your home, you may need to speak with a qualified heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) professional about different filters (HEPA or MERV-13 or higher) and settings (“Recirculate” and “On” rather than “Auto”) you can use to reduce indoor smoke.

Avoid activities that create more indoor and outdoor air pollution, such as frying foods, sweeping, vacuuming, and using gas-powered appliances. 

People who have difficulty breathing indoors on smoky days may want to try wearing an N95 or P100 respirator indoors. 

Most healthy people exposed to light wildfire smoke recover quickly and don’t suffer long-term problems. However, some factors can increase this likelihood, such as:

Exposure to very heavy smoke or exposure over a longer period of time

Children, elderly and pregnant women

Those with pre-existing asthma, COPD, or other chronic lung or heart diseases

One way to gauge risk is by checking visibility. If visibility is less than 5 miles, levels are unhealthy, and people should stay indoors if possible. The 5-3-1 method can be a helpful guide, and it can be found at nmfireinfo.com/smoke-management. 

Use good judgment to take care of your body. If you feel bad, no matter the visibility, make sure to stay inside or get to an area with better air quality. Some symptoms, like dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing can be caused by both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19. Other symptoms like fever or chills, muscle or body aches, and diarrhea are not related to smoke exposure. Check with your doctor as needed. If you have severe symptoms like difficulty breathing or chest pain, immediately call 911.

For more information on air quality in your area, go to the following website: https://fire.airnow.gov and put in your zip code to see data from air quality sensors and monitors near you. Each sensor/monitor location provides an air quality index (AQI) based on the amount of particulate matter in the air. It will also show how far away certain fires are, and whether a smoke plume is in the area.

For more information on COVID19 and Wildfire Smoke, see www.cdc.gov/disasters/covid-19/wildfire_smoke_covid-19.html