Summer is coming and #SmokeReady week is the ideal time to prepare for wildfire season. Follow these tips to stay safe when camping, hiking, and exploring the natural beauty Washington has to offer.
We can all help prevent wildfires
Increasing temperatures due to climate change, drought, and less winter snowpack mean fires can ignite more easily. Dry conditions help fires spread more rapidly and burn more intensely, making them harder to extinguish.
More than 80 percent of U.S. wildfires are started by people, whether by accident, negligence, or intentionally. Preventing wildfires is something we can do together by following these simple guidelines:
- Extinguish campfires completely by saturating them with water, stirring, and adding more water until all embers are out
- Follow burn bans
- Burn yard waste when it isn’t windy
- If you smoke, use an ashtray to fully extinguish your cigarette butts
- Keep the perimeter of your house and gutters free from pine and fir needles and other vegetation that can easily ignite
- Equip your ATV with a spark arrestor and carry an extinguisher
- Use alternatives to burning, like composting, bagging, or chipping your yard waste
- Park your hot vehicle on pavement rather than dry grass
- Check your trailer chains. Chains that drag can spark and start brush fires
There are two types of burn bans in Washington:
- Fire safety burn bans – When dry conditions persist, local fire departments, land managers, or county emergency management agencies will call fire safety burn bans
- Air quality burn bans – Ecology and local clean air agencies may call air quality burn bans when smoke levels are extremely high. Air quality burn bans are typically called in the winter months when smoke from wood stoves sticks close to the ground
Ecology tries to collect burn bans of any type on our Washington burn bans website. Burn bans may restrict the use of campfires, charcoal, gas/propane grills, and agricultural burning, when wildfire risk is high. Always check with local authorities before burning of any kind during wildfire season.
Burning in an urban growth area
Most burning is illegal in an urban growth area (UGA). An urban growth area is land used for urban development in and around communities. Even if you live outside city limits, you may still live inside an urban growth area. Land outside an urban growth area (like agricultural, rural, and natural land) is protected from urban sprawl. Visit our website to determine if you are in an urban growth area.
If you see someone burning during wildfire season, or if you are being impacted by poor air quality caused by smoke, report it!
Monitor air quality, fire conditions, and smoke forecasts
Below are further resources you can use to monitor air quality and track wildfire conditions.
- Washington Smoke Blog – The WA Smoke Blog is a one-stop shop for all things smoke and fire related. The website is managed by a partnership between state, county, and federal agencies, and Tribes. It contains updates on smoke, fire, and health information, emergency management contacts, as well as a map of current air quality conditions based on data provided by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality Index (AQI)
- Washington Smoke Forecast map – This Smoke Forecast Map predicts smoke levels created by wildfires and other sources across Washington. Forecasts may give up to 48 hours advance notice so you can plan outdoor activities and reduce your exposure to air pollution
- Mobile – Download the “AirQualityWA” app from the Google Play Store or Apple App store to monitor air quality in your area
- AirNow – AirNow is a federal tool that also uses the EPA’s AQI to report air quality. It uses color-coded categories and a numeric value to show air quality ranges from good to hazardous
- InciWeb – InciWeb is an interagency information map provided by the United States Forest Service for wildfires. It’s also used for other natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes
- Wireless Emergency Alerts – Sign up for FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts for messages sent directly to your cell phone
- Smoke Ready Toolbox – Visit the EPA website for additional information to help you prepare for wildfire smoke
How wildfire smoke can affect your health
Wildfire smoke is made up of gases and particulate matter that can be dangerous to your health when inhaled. Carbon monoxide from smoke is risky to people who live, work, and recreate near smoldering areas.
Even if you are healthy, smoke can cause:
- Watery or dry eyes.
- Lung and sinus irritation.
- Coughing, phlegm.
- Shortness of breath and wheezing.
- Irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or fatigue.
- Nonfatal and fatal heart attacks.
Symptoms may be worse for people with pre-existing health conditions. If you are in one of the groups below, seek medical attention if your condition worsens.
- People with lung diseases and respiratory infections.
- People with existing heart or circulatory problems.
- People with a history of heart attack or stroke.
- People with diabetes.
- Infants and children under 18.
- Adults over age 65.
- Pregnant people.
- People who smoke.
Get relief from wildfire smoke
If you are indoors:
- Try not to burn anything inside your home (cigarettes, candles, incense).
- Delay housework to avoid stirring up dust (vacuuming, dusting).
- Keep windows and doors closed; use a fan to keep cool.
- Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce indoor air pollution.
- Set your air conditioner to recirculate.
- Make a low-cost, effective clean air fan.
If you are outdoors:
- Reconsider any outdoor activities if you are in a sensitive group.
- Delay mowing your lawn, filling up your gas tank, or doing strenuous activity until the air is clear.
- Protect your eyes with goggles.
- Use artificial tear drops for irritated eyes.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever for headaches.
- Set your vehicle’s AC to recirculate to keep out smoky air.
- If necessary, leave the area affected by smoke.
- If you must be outdoors, use an N95 respirator mask. These masks filter 95 percent of smoke particles, but they do not protect from toxic gases. Wet towels and bandanas do not provide protection from particulate matter. Respirator masks must be properly fitted, so children and men with beards may not benefit from their use. If you are in a sensitive group, check with your doctor before using a mask.
- Reduce the time your pet spends outdoors in smoky areas.
- Limit activities that will increase your pet’s breathing.
- If your pet is coughing or having difficulty breathing, contact your veterinarian.
- Provide pets and wildlife with plenty of water.
By being #SmokeReadyTogether, we can help prevent wildfires and minimize the effects of smoke caused by them. Have a safe and enjoyable summer!