No-cost Air Purifiers
The Plumas County Fire Safe Council and Plumas Underburn Cooperative are pleased to offer community members FREE access to household High Efficiency Particulate Air purifiers to mitigate the effects of wildfire and prescribed fire smoke on a loan-basis.
Although PUC’s prescribed burns are designed to limit smoke impacts to our community, smoke will always be produced from these events. We acknowledge that there are smoke-sensitive groups in our communities and therefore we have pursued funds to purchase these air purifiers to distribute during prescribed fires.
During a prescribed fire event, the landowner hosting PUC will notify neighbors and adjacent properties about the potential smoke impacts and inform them of the HEPA Purifier Loan Program. If able, interested parties will sign-out and pick up Air Purifiers in-person at the Fire Safe Council office, 418 N Mill Creek Rd Quincy, CA. Accommodations can be made for people who are unable to pick up the Air Purifier from the office. Air purifiers will be held for no longer than 24 hours after the prescribed fire is considered “out” or “cold.”
These purifiers can be borrowed for any prescribed fire events in Plumas County, regardless of agency or organization administering the prescribed fire. They are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
When wildfire season arrives our HEPA Purifiers can be checked out for months at a time until PUC and its partners begin prescribed fire operations again.
We offer the Winix 5500-2 Air Purifier with Winix H 116130 HEPA filters.
Living in a fire adapted ecosystem
Plumas County is a fire adapted ecosystem: wildland fires are natural and good for our forests and rangelands. However, the smoke produced can be dangerous for the inhabitants of the County: living in this place we must adapt and learn how to live with fire and smoke.
In order to reduce summer smoke impacts, among other natural resource benefits, PUC, Plumas National Forest, CAL FIRE, and independent private land owners individually will implement prescribed fires in Plumas County. Prescribed fires make a little smoke in the Fall, Spring, and Winter in order to reduce the threat of wildfires in the summer, subsequently reducing smoke impacts.
Citizens of Plumas County should try their best to decrease their output of particulate emissions. The communities of Quincy and Portola are close to or exceeding the US EPA’s PM2.5 standard (aka “non-attainment”). PM2.5 refers to particles in our air that are 2.5 microns or less in width (like wood smoke, exhaust, and other emissions). See EPA’s Particulate Matter Air Quality Standards. If these communities’ air quality continues to get worse, the US EPA may put more restrictions on Plumas County, further limiting our ability to implement prescribed fire. The following are ways to decrease the particulate matter in our air:
Ways to limit air pollution in day-to-day life
The most effective way to deal with pollutants is to decrease emissions at the source.
Transportation: limit driving cars or trucks when possible and carpool when you can. Traveling less than a mile? Try to walk or bike!
Heating your home: look into alternatives to wood burning stoves like heat pumps or propane heaters. When using a wood stove, always use wood that has dried, or “seasoned,” for at least 1 year. Keep your wood stored away from your house but covered as to remain as dry as possible. Look for EPA-certified wood stoves when purchasing. Live in the Portola Area? You may be eligible for a new wood stove at no cost: see NSAQMD Woodstove Change-out Program.
Other home appliances: When purchasing new appliances, look for Energy Star certified products.
Pile burning: Allow piles or cut material to dry for at least 6 weeks for branches, and 6 months for logs. Keep piles covered with plastic or paper during precipitation events to keep them dry. Avoid burning needles or pinecones in piles… they are best burned during an underburn. Extinguish piles when the pile has burned down to coals: this creates biochar that can be used in a garden or left on the ground to sequester carbon. Extinguish piles before sunset: the evening inversion will trap smoke low in the atmosphere and not let it be transported away. See NSAQMD tips on pile burning for more information.
Ways to deal with wildfire smoke
Limit your exposure
Reducing the impacts of smoke is accomplished by limiting your exposure to smoke as much as possible.
- For people in a safe location, away from the fire, reducing physical activity is an effective strategy to lower the dose of inhaled air pollutants and reduce health risks during a smoke event. During exercise, people can increase their air intake as much as 10 to 20 times over their resting level. Increased breathing rates bring more pollution deep into the lungs.
- Staying inside in a safe place with the doors and windows closed can usually reduce exposure to air pollution by at least a third or more.
- Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution: smoking cigarettes, using gas, propane and wood-burning stoves and furnaces, spraying aerosol products, frying or broiling meat, burning candles and incense, and vacuuming can all increase particle levels in a home and should be avoided when wildfire smoke is present.
- Find a designated clean air shelter where you can go for respite from smoky conditions. This is particularly important for people without air conditioning on hot smoky days, when staying indoors with windows closed can be hazardous. Places to consider going include public libraries, hospitals, movie theaters, and other public buildings with good HVAC systems.
- Individuals who are particularly sensitive to smoke should consider temporarily evacuating an area with unhealthy levels of air pollution until air quality conditions improve.
- Use filters in your HVAC system or smaller portable air cleaners to provide clean air inside your home. Read more about these systems below.
Filter your air
One of the best ways to reduce the impact of smoke is by reducing the amount of smoke that enters your building and filtering harmful particles from the air.
Tightly closed buildings reduce exposure to outdoor air pollution, smoke enters and leaves buildings in three primary ways:
- Mechanical ventilation systems, which actively draw in outdoor air through intake vents and distribute it throughout the building.
- Natural ventilation (opening of doors or windows).
- Infiltration, the passive entry of unfiltered outdoor air through small cracks and gaps in the building shell.
If you have a central air conditioning system in your home, set it to re-circulate or close outdoor air intakes to avoid drawing in smoky outdoor air. Upgrading the filter efficiency of the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system and changing filters frequently during smoke events greatly improves indoor air quality.
Portable Air Purifiers: Smaller portable air cleaners are a great way to provide clean air in the areas where you spend most of your time. Essentially these are filters with an attached fan that draws air through the filter and cleans it. These cleaners can help reduce indoor particle levels, provided the specific air cleaner is properly matched to the size of the indoor environment in which it is placed, and doors and windows are kept shut. They should be placed in the bedrooms or living rooms to provide the most effectiveness.
HVAC Systems: If you have an HVAC system or “central air” in your home you may be able to purchase a filter that fits your system and filters out wildland fire smoke.
Do-it-yourself Air Purifier: If cost is a concern and you are unable to obtain an air purifier from the Loan Program you can construct an air purifier from a box fan and furnace filters. See University of Washington’s DIY guide: here. This method works but is less effective than the above two filtration methods. Use at your own risk.
When air quality improves, such as during a wind shift or after a rain, make sure to use natural ventilating to flush out the air in your building.
Selecting a Filter – For portable air purifiers, HVAC systems, DIY purifiers make sure to select a filter that is true HEPA or has a MERV rating of 13 or higher. These ratings refer to the size of particles that the filter will remove from the air and in this case they are certified to remove particles down to .3 microns in size. This is the minimum needed to remove the small harmful particles in smoke.
When selecting a portable filter, the other rating to pay attention to is CADR or Clean Air Delivery Rate. This refers to the volume of air that passes trough the unit. A CADR of 200 means the unit provides 200 cubic feet of clean air per minute, and often this number is equated to the room size that it will effectively purify the air in. In a 300 sq foot room a filter with a rating of 200 CADR will cycle the air through the filter 4-5 times per hour. While any filter will provide clean air those with lower CADRs will simply work more slowly.
Lastly, make sure to avoid filters that claim to produce ozone to destroy pathogens, as ozone is a respiratory irritant.
Wear a face mask outdoors
Face masks can be an effective way to reduce your exposure to smoke when they are fit correctly and are the proper rating. Make sure the mask you use is rated at least N95 or N100 and that you take care to fit it properly. These masks will filter out the small particles that are the most hazardous to your health. They are commonly available at hardware stores and can be purchased online. Paper masks only filter out large particles and will not provide the filtration needed to protect you from smoke.
This project was supported by the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network via a donation from an anonymous donor.