Sarah had just moved across the country for a new job. Like a lot of parents, her Dad, John, was worried about her. He was afraid Sarah's beloved dog would trigger asthma attacks in her tiny San Francisco apartment. Little did he know, a much larger threat loomed. Soon, San Francisco would have the worst air quality in the world. The devastating Camp Fire made all of Northern California especially dangerous for anyone with breathing conditions like asthma. Luckily, the Alen air purifier John ordered for Sarah arrived just before the smoke.
Wildfire smoke and red skies in San Francisco
"The BreatheSmart 45i has made my daughter's apartment a comfortable and breathable refuge from the smoke and ash. Thanks.” -John G.
Is Breathing Wildfire Smoke Dangerous?
Now that wildfires have returned, bringing the world's worst air quality back to the Northwest, many face breathing threats similar to Sarah’s. Wildfire smoke contains an array of harmful fine particles and chemicals that endanger people near fires. But you don’t even have to be close to a wildfire to find yourself in harm’s way. Just being downwind from forest fire smoke can cause problems, and the effects can travel hundreds and even thousands of miles. Smoke from Western wildfires is causing pollution 3,000 miles away on the East Coast.
With coronavirus surging in many wildfire-prone regions, protecting indoor air quality is critically important. According to the CDC, wildfire smoke can increase susceptibility to COVID-19, while worsening symptoms and outcomes. This may put many of the same vulnerable populations at greater risk, especially:
- The immunocompromised or anyone taking immune system-suppressing drugs.
- Anyone with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, including asthma and diabetes.
For that reason, we’ve listed a few important ways to fight smoke's worst effects. But first, let’s look at what makes wildfire smoke so hazardous.
Wildfire Smoke Health Effects
Can smoke from a fire make you sick? In short, yes. Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. This creates a two-fold threat for air quality: Chemical gasses called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) combine with ultra-fine soot or ash particles that can travel deep into the lungs and cause lasting damage.
According to the CDC, children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and people who are sensitive to air pollution (such as those with pre-existing heart and lung disease) should take precautions to limit exposure to wildfire smoke. However, if there is enough smoke in the air, anyone can become ill. This puts everyone at risk.
Smoke Inhalation Symptoms
Particulate matter is smoke's most dangerous ingredient, according to the EPA. These microscopic particles can cause many health problems, from burning eyes and runny nose to asthma attacks to aggravation of chronic heart and lung disease, leading to emergency department visits, hospital admissions, and even premature death.
Additional effects of smoke in the air include coughing, irritated sinuses, chest pains, fast heartbeat, fatigue, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
VOCs in smoke include carcinogens like acrolein, benzene, and formaldehyde that can stay present in smokey air and trigger symptoms from headaches and nausea to loss of coordination or liver damage. Longer-term exposure becomes even more serious.
Before we talk about how to filter toxins out of your home’s air, we want to list a few important ways to stay safe by getting prepared.
Five Critical Ways to Be Ready for Wildfires
1. Be sure you are receiving emergency alerts before you need them:
- FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts - FEMA works with US cell phone carriers to send free emergency texts to cell phones (that can get text messages) within range.
- Emergency Alert System - A public warning system that uses existing TV, radio, cable, and other systems to send critical messages to the general public. Messages are local or national, depending on the situation.
- NOAA Weather Radio - A nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts, and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- AirNow.gov- For quick and accurate local air quality index reports, this website run by the EPA and NOAA provides current fire and smoke data.
2. Develop a family emergency plan including your community’s evacuation plans and find several ways to leave the area.
3. Gather emergency supplies and have fire extinguishers on hand.
4. Create what the EPA calls a Clean Room as a refuge from smoke. Choose a room with no fireplace and as few windows and doors as possible, such as a bedroom, and equip it with a HEPA air purifier that's the right size for the room.
5. Avoid increasing indoor air pollution. Don’t smoke or burn candles. Refrain from turning on gas stoves or fireplaces, as this can increase indoor air pollution and make things worse. Also, avoid anything that will stir up dust particles, including cleaning.
How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
If you fall into any of the categories of people vulnerable to smoke pollutants and smoke particulates—or have loved ones who do—we recommend using a HEPA air purifier to clean your indoor air. Your home’s HVAC system may filter out some of the larger particles from smoke, but the smallest particulate matter is the biggest danger, as it can pass from the lungs into the bloodstream.
Are you planning on using dust masks for protection from incidents such as California fire smoke? If so, it’s important to know that these products only trap large particles like sawdust, according to the CDC. Neither fabric COVID masks nor dust masks will protect your lungs from fire smoke.
How to Keep Wildfire Smoke Out of the House
For detailed tips on preventing smoke from entering your home, see our article, Tips to Keep Wildfire Smoke out of Your Home
Public health experts recommend using a HEPA air purifier that's the right size for your space and running it continuously on its highest fan setting. Many Alen BreatheSmart purifiers use Smart Sensors to detect airborne particles, display current air quality using LED color rings, and automatically adjust fan speed to optimize air quality.
If you can safely stay in your home, Alen has top-rated purifiers and smoke filters that offer proven wildfire smoke protection for a variety of spaces—backed by our exclusive lifetime warranty.
Choosing the Best Air Purifiers For Wildfire Smoke
To protect indoor air, you must remove smoke’s most harmful ingredients: fine particles and toxic chemicals gasses (like VOCs). Alen pairs its top-rated purifiers with specialty activated carbon filters to eliminate both—quietly and effectively.
Knock out wildfire smoke with a 1-2 pure air punch
- Pick a purifier with a max coverage area slightly larger than your room, as max coverage is based on the unit’s highest fan speed. This way, your purifier can do its job effectively on a lower, quieter speed 24/7.
- Select one of Alen's proprietary True HEPA H13 filters for smoke. Each contains extra activated carbon to absorb gasses and odors, plus medical-grade HEPA material to remove ash, soot, and the most dangerous fine particulates.
Customers Trust Alen for Protection Against Wildfire Smoke
We could list more facts about why Alen’s wildfire purifiers are the surest way to stop wildfire smoke’s most dangerous and irritating effects, but thousands of 5-star reviews by our customers say it better than we ever could. Here are just a few from previous wildfire seasons:
"Without this air purifier, my husband would have been hospitalized during the Southern California wildfires. The air was unbreathable outside and even inside our neighbor's house, but the 45i kept our air pure and clean. I love the light that tells you when the air is clear, and the unit could not be easier to use. Well worth every penny." -Linda B.
“I purchased this [BreatheSmart FIT50] due to the poor air quality in our area after the Thomas Fire. It works very well cleaning the air in our master bedroom and does not disturb our sleep. This is our second Alen air purifier in our home.” -Gail S.
“We bought two FIT50 air purifiers with HEPA filters to deal with smoke from the outdoors coming into our house. For a period of time every summer, wildfire smoke settles in our area. I used to wake up with a headache every morning. Not anymore - not one headache since we started using the FIT50s a couple of weeks ago, despite the smoke. What a relief! We have them in our bedrooms, and we are sleeping better, too. Thanks so much!” -William O.