Sept. 2, 2020 — Area residents left their homes Tuesday morning to the smell of smoke and hazy skies as smoke from the 500-acre Sweet Creek Fire near Mapleton traveled downriver to Florence.
According to Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), which monitors air quality across the county, Florence’s air quality remains in the “good” range.
On Tuesday, LRAPA Public Affairs Manager Travis Knudsen said, “Right now, air quality across all of Lane County, and even out farther to the west getting into the Florence area, is still good. … It's been there fairly consistently over the last couple of days, which is fortunate considering the proximity to the Sweet Creek Fire and some of the smoke that has kind of started to pick up in the air.”
He said that although the smoke is smellable in the air, air quality has not degraded.
LRAPA reports air quality through its Oregon 24-Hour Air Quality Index Map on www.lrapa.org. Current air quality is displayed using an Air Quality Index (AQI), which is a numbered and color-coded way to report the daily air quality. The AQI in Lane County is calculated for two major pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone and particulate matter. It is also a scaled indication of general air quality, rather than a specific unit of measurement.
Knudsen did say that conditions might be worse in Mapleton and other areas closer to the fires, but the closest LRAPA sensor is in Florence on Kingwood Street.
The Florence sensor indicates that for the week before the Sweet Creek Fire began on Aug. 29, the AQI ranged from 8 to 30. Early Tuesday morning, it peaked at 52, just extending into the “moderate” range of health concern.
“One of the things as you notice the air degrading around you is that it can start to irritate people’s lungs or maybe give you a bit of scratchy throat,” Knudsen said.
This is because the smoke is full of particulates from the fire that are then inhaled.
According to LRAPA, smoke is especially harmful for seniors, children under 12 and people with pre-existing heart/lung conditions. Smoke can cause scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches and other asthma exacerbations.
“If you start to feel or notice those things, it's best to try to stay inside as much as possible and keep the windows and doors closed. And while you're in the home, try to avoid doing things which would create more dust in the air, such as vacuuming or other items like that,” Knudsen advised.
People should also check the air filter on their homes.
“It's one of those things that should be replaced relatively regularly, depending on the precise filter that you have,” Knudsen said. “It can be something that is forgotten about, so check that filter and make sure that you have a nice new clean one. Putting that in there will help a lot.”
According to Knudsen, some masks that people are already wearing to mitigate spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 may help with smoke inhalation, but a majority will not have a high enough rating.
“As far as it comes to inhaling smoke particles, it really depends on the precise mask you have. A lot of the cloth masks that people are wearing don't really provide much benefit against smoke,” he said. “There are some masks out there that do have a PM 2.5 filter, and a mask like that is going to still provide some benefit. But really the best masks are those N95 ones that are fit properly on your face.”
Instead, he advised that people stay informed and remain inside if conditions worsen.
“Florence is the closest monitor out there to look at the air quality, but it still is a good representation of a lot of the air quality in western portions of Lane County. Just really pay attention to LRAPA's website to look at air quality advisories,” Knudsen said. “Air quality progresses from good to moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups, then unhealthy and then very unhealthy — and then at some point, hazardous as it really gets up there. All of those different values have different public health recommendations and guidelines for who the best people are to stay inside or maybe limiting outdoor activity.”
LRAPA has a list of helpful resources and tips for “Health Threats from Wildfire Smoke” and home wood heating safety information at www.lrapa.org/203/Resources.
“As we start to get more into wildfire season, smoke from those wildfires will be more of a reality for us,” Knudsen said. “Just pay attention to what the air quality is and take appropriate action. That's the best way to protect your lungs and live as long and healthy life as we all possibly hope to.”