The Clog’s guide to smoke safety

Infographic describing how to stay safe in smoky conditions
Jazmine Solorzano/Staff

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Between power outages, fires blazing across the state of California and the typical midterm madness, fall in Berkeley has been a little chaotic, to say the least. Air quality Monday morning reached unhealthy levels because of the smoke from the Kincade Fire currently burning in Sonoma County. Although air quality in Berkeley has now returned to safe levels, fire season may continue until December, so it’s important that we take a moment to remind ourselves of ways to stay safe in smoky weather.

Stay inside

This should go without saying, but when air quality reaches unhealthy levels, it’s important to stay inside to reduce potential adverse reactions to the smoky conditions. Keep windows and doors closed, and make sure to keep track of air quality levels and air out your home when it’s safe to do so. Buildings such as Doe Memorial Library, Moffitt Library and C.V. Starr East Asian Library, as well as the Valley Life Sciences Building and Crossroads dining hall feature better filtration systems that can provide some relief from smoke particles.

Stay hydrated

The dry conditions and smoke in the air can cause a dry and scratchy throat, runny nose, headaches, trouble breathing and irritated sinuses, all of which can be helped or prevented by drinking lots of water. If you feel that you’re experiencing significant respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent coughing or wheezing, then we recommend seeking help through University Health Services.

Wear a mask when necessary

If you must go outside when the air quality reaches unhealthy levels, be sure to wear a mask. N95 and P100 masks will sufficiently filter out the harmful particles, but only when they have two straps and are worn around your head, fitting tightly to your face. It’s important to be aware that respirator masks may provide a false sense of security when worn during regular activities. They may also cause increased difficulty in breathing, which may be dangerous for those with underlying heart and lung diseases. University Health Services has a limited supply of N95 respirators for use in emergencies. Priority is given to students with underlying medical conditions that put them at a high risk for adverse effects, as well as for those who are currently experiencing symptoms related to the smoke. 

If you’re advised to stay indoors …

Make sure to keep indoor air as clean as possible! Avoid burning anything — candles, fires, stoves — and smoking. Vacuuming will stir up particles that are already in your home, so this gives you a reason to put off cleaning until later!

Hopefully, we won’t have to worry too much about smoky conditions in the coming weeks, yet as these fires become a part of our reality in California, it’s important to know how to protect yourself.

Contact Beatrice Aronson at [email protected].