Reminder to Watch for Rising and Falling Smoke Levels During the Wildfire Season

Public Health

[Medford, OR] June 21, 2024   – Wildfire is the number one natural hazard in Jackson County. There are currently two wildfires burning in Jackson County, the Upper Applegate and Highway 62 fires. While air quality is predicted to be good over the weekend, smoke levels can quickly rise and fall depending on weather factors, including wind direction and the amount of smoke produced by the wildfire. Wildfires burning in neighboring counties and states can also impact the air quality in Jackson County. Therefore, people need to be prepared to take steps to protect their health during wildfire season.

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of air pollutants that are harmful to human health. Exposure to air pollutants in wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function, and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Populations known to be vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposures include:
  • Children less than 18 years;
  • Adults age 65 years or older;
  • Pregnant women;
  • People with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, including asthma and diabetes;
  • Outdoor workers;
  • People of low socioeconomic status
During a wildfire smoke event, Jackson County Public Health Officials advise people to take the following precautions:

  • Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with the highest concentrations.
  • Stay indoors with doors and windows closed. Whether you have a central air conditioning system or a room unit, use high-efficiency filters to capture fine particles from smoke. Ask an air conditioning professional what type of high-efficiency filter your air conditioner can accept.
  • Create a “clean room” in your home. Choose a room with no fireplace and as few windows and doors as possible, such as a bedroom. Use a portable air cleaner in the room.
  • Maintain good indoor air quality by avoiding smoking inside, using gas, wood‐burning stoves or furnaces, aerosol sprays, frying or broiling meat, burning candles or incense, and vacuuming.
  • Temporarily leave the area and go to an area with cleaner air. Go to public indoor areas with cleaner air space.
  • Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated can keep your airways moist, which will help reduce symptoms of respiratory irritation such as scratchy throat, running nose, and coughing.
  • Have a supply of NIOSH-approved respirators and learn how to use them. If you choose to wear a respirator, select a particulate respirator marked with the word "NIOSH." If it has an "N," "R," or "P" along with the number 95, 99, or 100 printed on it, it is appropriate to use. They are sold at many home improvement stores and online. Oregon OSHA has videos in Spanish and English on how to properly wear a respirator below.


Many people may find using particulate respirators such as N95 and P100 masks difficult. Ensuring the respirator fits properly and air does not leak around the sides is important. If it does not fit properly, the respirator will not provide full protection and may offer the wearer a false sense of protection.

Respirators can make breathing more difficult and lead to increased breathing and heart rate. They can also contribute to heat stress. Because of this, particulate respirators used by those with heart and respiratory diseases should only be done under a doctor’s supervision. Even healthy adults may find that the increased effort required for breathing makes it uncomfortable to wear a respirator for more than short periods.

Resources:
• Check the Oregon DEQ’s Air Quality Index (AQI) for hourly air monitoring data https://aqi.oregon.gov.
• Oregon DEQ also has a mobile app for the AQI; search for OregonAir in your app store.
• For information on smoke and wildfires in Oregon, visit http://oregonsmoke.blogspot.com