People often underestimate the difference between story and experience. It’s one thing to hear about something; and it’s entirely another thing to live it. I’d heard about wildfires, seen them on the news, occasionally in the distance, and thought I basically understood what it might be like to be near one or even to live in its path. But as you’re about to find out, it’s worse than I thought. Scarier, yuckier, smokier, and weirder. It turns out the right air purifier with the right filter can actually make all the difference.
Where There’s Smoke…
I live in the foothills of the beautiful Catalina mountains, just north of Tucson, Arizona. In the middle of the night, a lightning bolt struck a forest high up in the peaks on Pusch Ridge, sparking a fire.
That wildfire would soon burn out of control, ultimately covering more than 186 square miles, and would come to be called the Bighorn Fire. Sparked in Bighorn Forest, the fire was named after the beautiful bighorn sheep who live in those mountaintop forests (none of whom seem to have been killed in the fire, by the way, thanks to their jumping superpowers and impressive mountaintop survival skills).
What Is Wildfire Smoke?
I knew a few things about wildfire smoke before this fire; I know a lot more now. For one thing, the particles in the smoke are the worst threat to health. Wildfire smoke is a toxic mixture: fine particles released by burning plants, and gases given off by the combustion. This smoke, which it turns out is even worse than we thought it was, can seriously irritate your eyes and respiratory system, and can be especially dangerous for people with chronic lung diseases or heart problems.
What’s It Like to Be Near a Wildfire?
When I started writing this, the fire has finally been brought to 89% containment, a huge victory for the exhausted firefighters—and as of publication, the massive wildfire has finally been entirely contained. But for weeks on end, it burned out of control, uncontained and moving toward my neighborhood, where I was sheltering in place for COVID-19.
At night, I’d look up at the mountains above my home and see one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen: walls of orange flame. During the day, all I could see was the wildfire smoke. Dull, thick, gray smoke curled itself around the entire mountain range, including my home.
Things changed quickly when the fire worsened and moved closer. I was coughing, sneezing, and feeling sore-throat awful. The air outdoors tasted burnt. The windows were already closed to keep out the summer heat. But still, the air in my home took on a smoky smell, which permeated everything.
What Helps Combat Wildfire Smoke Inside the Home?
At first, the air indoors was so much better than the smoke outdoors, I just took some allergy meds, and tried to stay positive. I’m a writer for Alen, and I mentioned the fire as I was turning in an assignment. A few days later, a brand new 45i arrived at my door. Neatly packaged and fun to unbox, my beautiful new air purifier arrived just in time, as the smoke was starting to affect my health and I wasn’t sleeping well.
Elegant and lightweight, incredibly easy to set up and move around, I fell in love with it immediately, with its smooth lines and pretty lights. The front panel (a designer choice) looks like Carrara marble. Plugging it in produces a pleasant gentle tone. Turning it on creates the perfect airflow and a soothing quiet sound, instantly relaxing. Sigh.
More to the point, the filter in my 45i is Alen’s True HEPA-Smoke Filter, which is the whole reason it’s here. Heavy with activated carbon, the filter impressed me all by itself, as I unwrapped it and clicked it easily into place.
I felt some kind of validation when, after turning my new 45i on for the first time, I saw the monitor display the “bad” air rating: a glowing red ring, as discreetly ominous as Darth Vader’s lightsaber, and comfortingly reassuring. It was as if my new favorite appliance were saying to me: no, it’s not just you, this wildfire is actually happening.
It’s not hyperbole to say that I instantly noticed a dramatic difference when I left the room and returned a few hours later: magically cleaner air. In that moment, I realized how smoky my home’s air had become, and I was impressed by how effective and powerful my new air purifier had actually shown itself to be, in just a few hours.
Then I felt a sense of hope as things improved, and then accomplishment and relief, as I watched the colors improve over the next few days.
Which Is Worse: Wildfire Smoke or COVID-19?
Ok, they’re both terrible. As the Arizona Department of Health Services has advised: “Avoid breathing smoke if you can help it.” Here’s the thing: wildfire smoke worsens air quality, which in turn damages health. That can lead to increased susceptibility to COVID-19, which happens to be spiking in my area during this wildfire (and which continues to present huge health risks throughout the U.S. and the world). So: exposure to wildfire smoke can make you more susceptible to COVID-19 and can also increase its severity.
I feel especially lucky because my Alen 45i does more than clean the wildfire smoke from my bedroom’s air; it also removes all kinds of other toxins, VOCs, allergens, dust, mold, and more, leaving the air in the room fresh-smelling and clean. I sleep better and feel better, and enjoy knowing that I’m breathing healthy air.
Now that I’ve lived with it, I’m not sure how I lived without it.
All my other rooms are jealous.