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Here Are the Best Ways to Stay Safe During High-Pollution and Forest Fire Season

Tips to keep in mind before the world ends in smoke.

The Northeastern seaboard of the United States is facing unprecedented low air quality due to forest fires in Canada. The worst part is, this is nothing new for people in regions like the West Coast, and may in fact be the new normal, thanks to climate change.

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Still, there are many ways you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe from poor air quality and forest fires.

Unfortunately, some of this advice will be rather reminiscent of the early days of the COVID19 pandemic, but if it works, then it works.

Stay inside

Pulmonary doctors suggest staying inside and taking care to seal cracks in windows and doors to prevent pollution from entering the home. Some also suggest running an air conditioner if you have it and avoiding frying food as that may cause more smoke inside, but in an email, New York Communities for Change advised against running the AC during the “haziest part of the day if it’s taking in air from outside.”

Purchase or make an air filter

If you or a loved one has asthma or a respiratory issue, it may also help to go the extra mile and get an air filter. If you can’t afford it then there are tutorials for how to make one with a box fan and some carbon-fiber filters.

Mask up

However, most people will have to leave the house for work, errands, and other necessities. As such, wearing a mask can help prevent you from inhaling pollutants. Doctors recommend the N95 to keep out as many particles as possible, but the surgical masks can prevent you from inhaling some particles.

Take care of yourself—and each other

New York Communities for Change also advises drinking plenty of water as it “helps keep your throat clear and water can help reduce headaches and other symptoms from smoke exposure,” and “tak[ing] a mental health break” to mitigate the effects of the pollution.

They also remind New Yorkers to “[c]heck in on family and friends that may be especially vulnerable to the effects of toxic air” and “[k]eep updated on the latest air quality information by visiting the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website or calling the NYS Air Quality Hotline at (800) 535-1345.”

Take a break from smoking / driving

While the current air quality in New York is due to forest fires, it can be compounded by already existing pollution. As such, avoid contributing to the already poor air quality by carpooling, taking public transit, or taking a break from smoking (and yes, that includes vaping) if you’re able to.

For more info on how to stay safe, I highly suggest taking a look at this interview with Dr. Sterman, head of pulmonology at NYU Langone:

Preventative measures

If you live in an area that is prone to forest fires, chances are you already know the drill about preventing and preparing for forest fires.

But if this is your first rodeo, here are some general tips.

Keep an emergency kit and keep it updated!

This advice should apply anywhere and everywhere: whether you’re in tornado alley or the coastline with hurricanes or forest fire-prone areas, chances are that you have some kind of natural disaster for which you should be prepared.

Shelf-stable food, clean water, batteries, first aid kits, a multi-tool, a change of clothes, extra medications, and photocopies of important documents should all be kept close, preferably in a waterproof backpack or duffle bag.

Remember to refresh it if you haven’t checked it since last year.

Have an exit strategy

If worse comes to worse and you do have to evacuate, have an exit strategy or ride pre-planned. Check with neighbors who may need assistance in evacuating. Give alternate methods of communication to friends and family members and/or a meeting place so you can meet up if you do get separated. Look up nearby hospitals and shelters and mark them on a paper map in case cell towers or cell phones aren’t available.

Call your congresspeople

Now is also a good time for action. The unfortunate reality is that these bad air quality days are already the norm for a lot of the world and it will only get worse the more we ignore the problem. 

While Smokey the Bear is right to teach fire safety while camping, many forest fires have been started by negligent companies like Pacific Gas & Electric. Despite that, many of these companies have gotten away with a slap on the wrist or less for the damage they have done.

It’s time to start holding them accountable before the world ends in smoke.

(featured image: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)


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Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.